Melatonin and cancer: From the promotion of genomic stability to use in cancer treatment

J Cell Physiol. 2019 May;234(5):5613-5627. doi: 10.1002/jcp.27391. Epub 2018 Sep 21.


Cancer remains among the most challenging human diseases. Several lines of evidence suggest that carcinogenesis is a complex process that is initiated by DNA damage. Exposure to clastogenic agents such as heavy metals, ionizing radiation (IR), and chemotherapy drugs may cause chronic mutations in the genomic material, leading to a phenomenon named genomic instability. Evidence suggests that genomic instability is responsible for cancer incidence after exposure to carcinogenic agents, and increases the risk of secondary cancers following treatment with radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Melatonin as the main product of the pineal gland is a promising hormone for preventing cancer and improving cancer treatment. Melatonin can directly neutralize toxic free radicals more efficiently compared with other classical antioxidants. In addition, melatonin is able to regulate the reduction/oxidation (redox) system in stress conditions. Through regulation of mitochondrial nction and inhibition of pro-oxidant enzymes, melatonin suppresses chronic oxidative stress. Moreover, melatonin potently stimulates DNA damage responses that increase the tolerance of normal tissues to toxic effect of IR and may reduce the risk of genomic instability in patients who undergo radiotherapy. Through these mechanisms, melatonin attenuates several side effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Interestingly, melatonin has shown some synergistic properties with IR and chemotherapy, which is distinct from classical antioxidants that are mainly used for the alleviation of adverse events of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. In this review, we describe the anticarcinogenic effects of melatonin and also its possible application in clinical oncology.

Keywords: DNA damage; apoptosis; chemotherapy; genomic instability; melatonin; mitochondria; oncology; radiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / adverse effects
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antioxidants / adverse effects
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / drug effects*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / pathology
  • DNA Damage
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Genomic Instability*
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / adverse effects
  • Melatonin / metabolism
  • Melatonin / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Signal Transduction


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Melatonin