Melatonin Did Not Improve Fatigue in Cancer Patients Interview with:
Charlotte Lund Rasmussen

Research Unit, Department of Palliative Medicine
Bispebjerg Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: We see that patients with advanced cancer often suffer from fatigue, pain, depression, insomnia and other symptoms, which can have a profound impact on quality of life. Melatonin is a neurohormone and its secretion is closely tied to the circadian rhythm making it a regulator of the sleep-cycle.

Studies have shown that cancer patients have lower levels of melatonin than healthy controls, which may contribute to their fatigue and lowered quality of life. Furthermore, previous studies have found a possible effect of melatonin in cancer therapy, and non-clinical trials have shown melatonin to inhibit cell division in tumors.

To our knowledge, no trials to date have investigated the effects of melatonin on fatigue. Given the role of melatonin in the sleep cycle, the lowered levels of melatonin noted among cancer patients, and results from previous studies, we wanted to investigate melatonin’s effect on fatigue among patients with advanced cancer.

The primary objective of our study was to determine whether oral melatonin administered at night would reduce physical fatigue in patients with advanced cancer who were being treated in a palliative care facility. The effect of melatonin on other cancer-related symptoms including mental fatigue, insomnia, pain, emotional function, loss of appetite, and overall QoL were also investigated.

In this trial we tested a dose of 20 mg of melatonin taken orally at night.

However, melatonin did not improve physical fatigue in patients with advanced cancer. Furthermore, we were unable to identify improvements in any other cancer-related symptoms.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Based on this study we cannot recommend using melatonin when treating cancer-related symptoms among late-phase palliative patients.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: The current study investigated the potential use of melatonin in late-phase palliative treatment. As a patient’s disease progresses, their symptoms, concerns, and challenges are constantly changing. Interventions that demonstrate no effect in the final stages of a disease could possibly make a difference if applied earlier. Further research is needed to determine whether melatonin has a role in alleviating fatigue and other symptoms in cancer patients at an earlier stage of their disease.



Cancer. 2015 Jul 15. doi: 10.1002/cncr.29563. [Epub ahead of print]

Effects of melatonin on physical fatigue and other symptoms in patients with advanced cancer receiving palliative care: A double-blind placebo-controlled crossover trial.

Lund Rasmussen C1, Klee Olsen M1, Thit Johnsen A1, Aagaard Petersen M1, Lindholm H1, Andersen L1, Villadsen B1, Groenvold M1,2, Pedersen L1.

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Charlotte Lund Rasmussen (2015). Melatonin Did Not Improve Fatigue in Cancer Patients

Last Updated on September 3, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD