The circadian timing system (CTS) controls several critical molecular pathways for cancer processes and treatment effects over the 24 hours, including drug metabolism, cell cycle, apoptosis, and DNA damage repair mechanisms. This results in the circadian time dependency of whole-body and cellular pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of anticancer agents. However, CTS robustness and phase varies among cancer patients, based on circadian monitoring of rest- activity, body temperature, sleep, and/or hormonal secretion rhythms. Circadian disruption has been further found in up to 50% of patients with metastatic cancer. Such disruption was associated with poor outcomes, including fatigue, anorexia, sleep disorders, and short progression-free and overall survival. Novel, minimally invasive devices have enabled continuous CTS assessment in non-hospitalized cancer patients. They revealed up to 12-hour differences in individual circadian phase. Taken together, the data support the personalization of chronotherapy. This treatment method aims at the adjustment of cancer treatment delivery according to circadian rhythms, using programmable-in-time pumps or novel release formulations, in order to increase both efficacy and tolerability. A fixed oxaliplatin, 5-fluorouracil and leucovorin chronotherapy protocol prolonged median overall survival in men with metastatic colorectal cancer by 3.3 months as compared to conventional delivery, according to a meta-analysis (P=0.009). Further analyses revealed the need for the prevention of circadian disruption or the restoration of robust circadian function in patients on chronotherapy, in order to further optimize treatment effects. The strengthening of external synchronizers could meet such a goal, through programmed exercise, meal timing, light exposure, improved social support, sleep scheduling, and the properly timed administration of drugs that target circadian clocks. Chrono-rehabilitation warrants clinical testing for improving quality of life and survival in cancer patients.
Keywords: Cancer; chemotherapy; chronobiology; chronotherapy; circadian rhythm; clocks; health-related quality of life; oncology; pharmacology; physiology monitoring; synchronization.