The preventative role of exogenous melatonin administration to patients with advanced cancer who are at risk of delirium: Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial

Shirley Bush, Nathalie Lacaze-Masmonteil, Maria McNamara-Kilian, Alistair MacDonald, Sallyanne Tierney, F Momoli, Meera Agar, David Currow, P Lawlor

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Delirium is a very common and distressing neuropsychiatric syndrome in palliative care. Increasing age, the presence of dementia and advanced cancer are well-known predisposing risk factors for delirium development. Sleep-wake cycle disturbance is frequently seen during delirium and melatonin has a pivotal role in the regulation of circadian rhythms. Current evidence across various settings suggests a potential preventative role for melatonin in patients at risk of delirium, but no studies are currently reported in patients with advanced cancer. The aim of this article is to describe the design of a feasibility study that is being conducted to inform a larger randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial (RCT) to evaluate the role of exogenously administered melatonin in preventing delirium in patients with advanced cancer. Methods/Design: Adult patients with a cancer diagnosis who are admitted to the palliative care unit will be randomized into a treatment or placebo group. The pharmacological intervention consists of a single daily dose of immediate-release melatonin (3 mg) at 21:00±1 h, from day 1 to day 28 of admission. The primary objective of this initial study is to assess the feasibility of conducting the proposed RCT by testing recruitment and retention rates, appropriateness of study outcome measures, acceptability of study procedures and effectiveness of the blinding process. The primary outcome measure of the proposed larger RCT is time to first inpatient incident episode of delirium. We also plan to collect data on incident rates of delirium and patient-days of delirium, adjusting for length of admission. Discussion: The outcomes of this feasibility study will provide information on recruitment and retention rates, protocol violation frequency, effectiveness of the blinding process, acceptability of the study procedures, and safety of the proposed intervention. This will inform the design of a fully powered randomized controlled trial to evaluate the preventative role of melatonin administration in patients with advanced cancer. Trial registration: Registered with NCT02200172Registered on 21 July 2014. Health Canada protocol number: BRI-MELAT-2013 (Final approved protocol version (Version 3): 18 June 2014) (Notice of Amended Authorization (NOA) received 14 November 2014).

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number399
    Pages (from-to)Art: 399
    Number of pages9
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2016


    • Advanced cancer
    • Delirium
    • Feasibility study
    • Melatonin
    • Pilot
    • Prevention
    • Randomized controlled trial (RCT)
    • Sleep


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