The emergence of melatonin in oncology: Focus on colorectal cancer

Med Res Rev. 2019 Nov;39(6):2239-2285. doi: 10.1002/med.21582. Epub 2019 Apr 4.


Within the last few decades, melatonin has increasingly emerged in clinical oncology as a naturally occurring bioactive molecule with substantial anticancer properties and a pharmacological profile optimal for joining the currently available pharmacopeia. In addition, extensive experimental data shows that this chronobiotic agent exerts oncostatic effects throughout all stages of tumor growth, from initial cell transformation to mitigation of malignant progression and metastasis; additionally, melatonin alleviates the side effects and improves the welfare of radio/chemotherapy-treated patients. Thus, the support of clinicians and oncologists for the use of melatonin in both the treatment and proactive prevention of cancer is gaining strength. Because of its epidemiological importance and symptomatic debut in advanced stages of difficult clinical management, colorectal cancer (CRC) is a preferential target for testing new therapies. In this regard, the development of effective forms of clinical intervention for the improvement of CRC outcome, specifically metastatic CRC, is urgent. At the same time, the need to reduce the costs of conventional anti-CRC therapy results is also imperative. In light of this status quo, the therapeutic potential of melatonin, and the direct and indirect critical processes of CRC malignancy it modulates, have aroused much interest. To illuminate the imminent future on CRC research, we focused our attention on the molecular mechanisms underlying the multiple oncostatic actions displayed by melatonin in the onset and evolution of CRC and summarized epidemiological evidence, as well as in vitro, in vivo and clinical findings that support the broadly protective potential demonstrated by melatonin.

Keywords: angiogenesis; apoptosis; circadian rhythms; colorectal cancer; epigenetics; inflammation; melatonin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / chemistry
  • Melatonin / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology
  • Receptors, Melatonin / metabolism


  • Receptors, Melatonin
  • Melatonin