We studied the 24-hour plasma melatonin profile in three groups of women: normal individuals, women with breast cancer, and women at high risk for breast cancer, to determine the relationship of plasma melatonin to this malignancy. The mean daytime (nadir) and mean nighttime (peak) plasma levels for the normal subjects were 9.1 pg/mL and 70.9 pg/mL, respectively. The mean daytime and nighttime plasma levels, and the range of melatonin day to night differences for women with breast cancer and women at high risk for breast cancer were comparable to each other and to the normal subjects, with no statistically significant differences noted. The patients with breast cancer demonstrated a striking correlation between the melatonin diurnal rhythm and the steroid receptor content of the primary tumor. Women with estrogen (ER) or progesterone (PR) receptor-positive tumors had a significantly lower mean plasma melatonin day to night difference than did patients with ER- or PR-negative tumors. Further, a strong inverse correlation was observed between the plasma melatonin concentration and the quantities of ER and PR in the primary tumor: the lower the plasma melatonin concentration the greater the amount of either receptor in the primary tumor. Plasma melatonin did not correlate with tumor glucocorticoid receptor content or stage of breast cancer among these patients, or with menopausal status, age, parity, or the plasma levels of estrone, estradiol, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), or luteinizing hormone (LH) among all individuals studied. Plasma melatonin was also independent of the degree of risk for breast cancer among the high-risk patients. These findings suggest an important relationship between the plasma melatonin diurnal rhythm and the hormone dependency of human breast cancer, and may have implications for both the prognosis and treatment of this malignancy.
Plasma melatonin and the hormone-dependency of human breast cancer.