Melatonin may prevent cancer-treatment pain

Monday, 18 September, 2017

Dr Carole Torsney (Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences), Dr Lesley Colvin (Critical Care and Pain Medicine) and colleagues at the Univeristy of Aberdeen have published a study indicating that melatonin (often used to treat jet lag) may help reduce the neuropathic pain that is experienced by almost 70% of patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain (CINP) causes tingling and pain sensation to touch and cold temperatures, often making everyday activities, such as fastening buttons or walking barefoot, painful. The condition can persist beyond the treatment period and after the cancer is cured.

Treatment with melatonin (a naturally occurring hormone that controls sleep patterns) prior to chemotherapy limited the damage to nerves and the subsequent development of pain in animal models of chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain. Treatment with melatonin once CINP had already developed did not alleviate pain suggesting this could be a preventative treatment rather than a cure. Importantly. melatonin did not interfere with the anticancer effects of the chemotherapy. The researchers found that there was a reduction in damage to mitochondria and this may hold the key to preventing CINP.

Dr Carole Torsney, Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences, said "These findings are very exciting and suggest that melatonin could prevent CINP by protecting nerve cell mitochondria. Our next steps will be to further test this theory by looking at the effect of melatonin in other pain conditions that also involve mitochondrial damage".