Melatonin is a neuroendocrine hormone secreted by the pineal gland to transduce the body's circadian rhythms. An internal 24 hour time keeping system (biological clock) regulated by melatonin, controls the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production is a highly conserved evolutionary phenomenon. The indole hormone is synthesized in the pinealocytes derived from photoreceptors.
Altered patterns and/or levels of melatonin secretion have been reported to coincide with sleep disorders, jetlag, depression, stress, reproductive activities, some forms of cancer and immunological disorders. Lately, the physiological and pathological role of melatonin has become a priority area of investigation, particularly in breast cancer, melanoma, colon cancer, lung cancer and leukemia.
According to the 'melatonin hypothesis' of cancer, the exposure to light at night (LAN) and anthropogenic electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) is related to the increased incidence of breast cancer and childhood leukaemia via melatonin disruption. Melatonin's hypothermic, antioxidant and free radical scavenging properties, attribute it to an immunomodulator and an oncostatic agent as well.
Many clinical studies have envisaged the potential therapeutic role of melatonin in various pathophysiological disorders, particularly cancer. A substantial reduction in risk of death and low adverse effects were reported from various randomized controlled trials of melatonin treatment in cancer patients.
This review summarizes the physiological significance of melatonin and its potential role in cancer therapy. Furthermore, the article focuses on melatonin hypothesis to represent the cause-effect relationship of the three aspects: EMF, LAN and cancer.