Cancer – how Tomatoes and Lycopene confer protection

Dr Paul Clayton 2002

Research presented at the 90th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research heralded the dawn of a new kind of cancer treatment.

Following recent epidemiological studies which suggested that consumption of tomato products protects against prostate cancer, Omer Kucuk M.D., Professor of Medicine and Oncology at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, evaluated the effect of a lycopene-rich tomato extract on patients with existing prostate cancer.

In this study, Dr Kucuk and colleagues followed 30 men with localized prostate cancer who were scheduled to undergo surgical removal of the prostate. For three weeks prior to surgery, the patients were randomly assigned to receive either 30 mg of lycopene a day or a placebo.

During the trial, levels of serum PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen, a marker used to detect prostate cancer) fell in the patients who received lycopene. After surgery, the investigators found that the treated group had smaller tumours, which were less likely to have spread beyond the prostate, and the tumours showed signs of decreased malignancy.

“To our knowledge, this is the first report from a randomised prospective clinical trial showing the efficacy of a lycopene supplement against prostate cancer”, said Dr Kucuk. “Our findings suggest that lycopene as tomato extract may not only help prevent prostate cancer, but also may be useful in treating prostate cancer”.

COMMENT: Lycopene is the red colour in tomatoes. The evidence that tomato extracts in general, and lycopene in particular, reduce the risk of various cancers (prostate, breast, and gastro-intestinal tract), is becoming hard to ignore. But this study is a real breakthrough; for the first time, it shows that natural extracts have a major role in the treatment of cancer. And unlike chemotherapy and radiotherapy, there are no side effects. This may be the most important piece of clinical research this year; and it confirms all the earlier findings that lycopene was protective.


1 Vogt TM et al, Am Journal of Epidemiology 155(11):1023-1032, 2002

2 Kucuk O et al, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 10:861-868, 2001