, Volume 108, Issue 3, pp 339-350
Date: 31 May 2007

Melatonin, environmental light, and breast cancer

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Abstract

Although many factors have been suggested as causes for breast cancer, the increased incidence of the disease seen in women working in night shifts led to the hypothesis that the suppression of melatonin by light or melatonin deficiency plays a major role in cancer development. Studies on the 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene and N-methyl-N-nitrosourea experimental models of human breast cancer indicate that melatonin is effective in reducing cancer development. In vitro studies in MCF-7 human breast cancer cell line have shown that melatonin exerts its anticarcinogenic actions through a variety of mechanisms, and that it is most effective in estrogen receptor (ER) α-positive breast cancer cells. Melatonin suppresses ER gene, modulates several estrogen dependent regulatory proteins and pro-oncogenes, inhibits cell proliferation, and impairs the metastatic capacity of MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. The anticarcinogenic action on MCF-7 cells has been demonstrated at the physiological concentrations of melatonin attained at night, suggesting thereby that melatonin acts like an endogenous antiestrogen. Melatonin also decreases the formation of estrogens from androgens via aromatase inhibition. Circulating melatonin levels are abnormally low in ER-positive breast cancer patients thereby supporting the melatonin hypothesis for breast cancer in shift working women. It has been postulated that enhanced endogenous melatonin secretion is responsible for the beneficial effects of meditation as a form of psychosocial intervention that helps breast cancer patients.