The therapeutic application of melatonin in supportive care and palliative medicine

Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2005 Jul-Aug;22(4):295-309. doi: 10.1177/104990910502200412.


Melatonin is a hormone produced mainly in the pineal gland. Plasma levels exhibit a circadian variation with the highest concentration occurring at night. The human biologic effects of melatonin depend upon the time of day it is made available. One of these effects is the setting and resetting of circadian clocks (chronobiotic effect). Additionally, it may be a potent antioxidant and immunomodulator and has been shown to have antitumor, anticytokine, anti-insomnia, and anticachexia effects. Melatonin has also been shown to improve survival and performance status in patients with advanced cancer. Objective tumor response occurs with melatonin alone or when combined with interleukin-2 (IL-2). Further, melatonin reduces radiation- and chemotherapeutic-induced toxicity. Symptomatic and circadian disruption is linked to increased cancer risk. The chronobiotic capacity of melatonin to reset circadian clocks may provide a verifiable strategy to reduce cancer risk and enhance quality of life by diminishing cancer-induced circadian disruption.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / metabolism
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacokinetics
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use*
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Antioxidants / pharmacokinetics
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use*
  • Cachexia / drug therapy
  • Cachexia / etiology
  • Chronotherapy / methods
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Depression / etiology
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Humans
  • Hypotension / drug therapy
  • Hypotension / etiology
  • Interleukin-2 / therapeutic use
  • Melatonin / metabolism
  • Melatonin / pharmacokinetics
  • Melatonin / therapeutic use*
  • Metabolic Clearance Rate
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Quality of Life
  • Research Design
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / drug therapy
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / etiology
  • Survival Analysis
  • Thrombocytopenia / drug therapy
  • Thrombocytopenia / etiology
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antioxidants
  • Interleukin-2
  • Melatonin