Intended for healthcare professionals


Melatonin in children with cancer

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 10 December 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k5164
  1. Adam W Glaser, professor of paediatric oncology and late effects,
  2. James C Nicholson, consultant paediatric oncologist2,
  3. Angela Polanco, consumer representative3,
  4. Bob Phillips, NIHR postdoctoral fellow4
  1. 1University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  2. 2Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge, UK
  3. 3National Cancer Research Institute Childhood Cancer and Leukaemia Clinical Studies Group, London, UK
  4. 4Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York, York, UK
  1. Correspondence to: A W Glaser a.glaser{at}

Unsupported claims of effectiveness are misleading families

Recent calls have been made for young cancer patients to be given melatonin as part of NHS “standard of care” treatment. The premise is that melatonin “could save lives as well as the NHS money”—by improving survival and reducing adverse side effects.1 This has generated understandable media interest.2

Cancer affects one in 500 people under the age of 14 and is a leading cause of death in childhood. It is highly emotive, with the potential to have devastating effects on the lives of affected families who, quite understandably, will go to extremes to support their children. Reassuringly, five and 10 year survival rates have doubled since the 1970s,3 with the increases being attributed to systematic and widespread adoption of collaborative clinical trials to evaluate new approaches to treatment.4

Although over 80% of young people who have cancer …

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