From The Cancer Chronicles #27
© May 1995 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.

Some cancer patients are now taking a hormonal supplement called melatonin as part of their comprehensive, non-toxic cancer treatment plan.

Typically, they take between 3 and 6 milligrams (mg) per day by mouth, although some are taking even higher doses. Melatonin is the only hormone known to be produced by the pineal gland, a small but crucial organ embedded in the inner recesses of the brain. The pineal gland is shaped like a pine cone, hence the name (Latin: pinea). It is about a quarter of an inch in length, pinkish gray or white in color. The gland is relatively large in children, but begins to shrink with the onset of puberty. Melatonin also prevents premature sexual development before adolescence.

In some mammals it also plays a role in hibernation, metabolism, and seasonal breeding. In humans, it is best known for its major role in regulating sleeping patterns, since melatonin levels are elevated at night. It may also play a role in seasonal affective disease (SAD), since decreased daylight in the winter makes for more melatonin production. The hormone was discovered at Yale University in 1958 and today is mainly used as an over-the-counter, non-addicting remedy for insomnia.

Milan Studies

One might suspect that such a powerful hormone has a role to play in cancer, and that appears to be the case. One center of melatonin and cancer studies today is the Division of Radiation Oncology of the San Gerardo Hospital, Milan, Italy. There, doctors have developed a "neuroimmunotherapeutic" protocol that includes a low-dose of IL-2 (3 million IU/day for 6 days per week, for 4 weeks) with the addition of melatonin taken by mouth (40 mg/day, starting 7 days before IL-2).

In a randomized clinical trial, reported in 1994, patients with advanced disease (other than melanoma or kidney cancer) received either low-dose IL-2 alone or IL-2 plus the orally administered melatonin.

There was just one (partial) response out of 39 patients in the IL-2 group. However, when melatonin was added, there were 11 complete or partial responses. After one year on the treatment, there were just six survivors out of 39 patients on IL-2, but 19 survivors in the melatonin +IL-2 group. This was statistically significant and was reported last year in the British Journal of Cancer (1994;69:196-199).

In another randomized study, patients with inoperable brain metastases were given either just supportive care or supportive care + melatonin (20 mg/day at 8:00 p.m. taken orally). Survival at one year, as well as freedom from brain tumor progression, and mean survival time were all significantly higher in patients who were treated with melatonin than in those who received supportive care alone (Cancer 1994;73:699-701).

Complete responses were seen in liver, pancreas, and stomach cancers. Partial responses were seen in lung, liver, stomach, pancreas, breast, and colon (J Biolo Regul Homeost Agents 1993;7:121-125).Even when it did not stop the progression of advanced, metastatic disease melatonin has been found to improve the performance status of patients (Ann NY Acad Sci 1988;521:290-299).This immune system modulating "neurohormone" has a profound effect on many cases of cancer.

Breast Cancer

Melatonin figures in an ingenious explanation of the rising rates of breast cancer. It is well-known that the hormone estrogen promotes some cases of breast cancer. According to an article in the American Journal of Epidemiology (4/87), nighttime production of melatonin inhibits the body's production of estrogen. But exposure to either light at night or to electromagnetic fields can suppress the secretion of melatonin. Chronic exposures of this sort could lead to an increase in an individual's cumulative lifetime dose of estrogen, and therefore to an increased breast cancer risk. Two researchers later showed that melatonin directly inhibited the proliferation of human breast cancer cells in culture.

"Even more significant," they wrote, "we were able to demonstrate that the concentration of melatonin needed to inhibit the growth of those cells was comparable to what's present in human blood at night." Melatonin also increased the level of naturally occurring antioxidants in breast cancer cells. It may be capable of reducing the number of estrogen receptors on breast cancer cells. "Since estrogen effectively feeds the growth of hormone-responsive breast tumors," wrote Science News, "reducing the receptors might slow tumor growth" (7/3/93).

The FDA has begun to pressure stores to remove melatonin. FDA contends that such a powerful hormone has no place on health food store or pharmacy shelves. If melatonin is yanked, however, it will further restrict cancer patients' freedom of choice. At this writing it is available through many outlets. Three milligram (3 mg) capsules retail for around 20 cents apiece.

Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. is director of the The Moss Reports for cancer patients. Dr. Moss is the author of eleven books and three documentaries on cancer-related topics. He is or has been an advisor on alternative cancer treatments to the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the American Urological Association, Columbia University, the University of Texas, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the German Society of Oncology. He wrote the first article on alternative medicine for the Encyclopedia Britannica yearbook. He is listed in Marquis Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in the East, and Who's Who in Entertainment (as a film documentarian). This Web site does not advocate any particular treatment for cancer. We urge you to always seek competent medical advice for all health problems, especially cancer. Before consulting our site please read our full Disclaimer statement.

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