Evidence for Possible Anticancer Protection by Lycopene

Most of the indications with respect to cancer comes from human studies linking tomato intake, total estimated lycopene intake, and serum or plasma lycopene concentrations to the subsequent development of cancers (Table 5). There is a small amount of evidence from experimental animal studies, for instance, rat and mouse dimethylbenzanthracene-induced mammary tumor studies have supported the hypothesis, as has a model of spontaneous mammary tumor formation in one strain of mice, but many of the animal models of tumor promotion have been criticized as being too dissimilar from the likely processes of spontaneous tumorigenesis in humans.

Partly for historical reasons, there has been a particular interest in prostate cancer (Table 5). A large and early trial in the US (US Health Professionals Follow-up Study) reported an impressive difference between groups with high and low intakes of tomatoes and hence of lycopene for subsequent prostate cancer development, which was not shared with other carotenoids. Plausibility was enhanced by the fact that although human prostate lycopene concentrations are not especially high on an absolute basis (Table 3), they are higher than those of other carotenoids in this tissue. Subsequent studies have had variable outcomes. A small pilot study reported that tomato oleoresin supplements given for a short period to prostate cancer sufferers who were due for radical prostatectomy resulted in smaller tumor size and other apparent benefits, but this trial now needs to be repeated on a larger scale.

Table 5 Summary evidence for possible lycopene protection against prostate cancer

No. of Locations Total no. of Types of trial Outcome conclusion studies participants

2 Greece, Canada 937 Case-control (intake of tomato or Significant association lycopene, or blood level)

7 USA, UK, 3824 As above No significant association

Canada, New Zealand

3 USA 954 Prospective studies based on Significant association dietary estimates

1 Netherlands As above No association

3 USA 723 Prospective studies based on Inconclusive; one study found serum or plasma lycopene a marginal (P = 0.05) benefit vs. aggressive cancer

Table 6 Summary evidence of association of relatively high serum or plasma lycopene with lowered risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)



Sex (total participants)

Types of trial and outcome measures

Outcome conclusion


Europe, multicenter

M (1379)


Significant association

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