Lycopene and Prostate Cancer

Thursday, July 12, 2007 - 4:51pm

By Dena McDowell, MS, RD

Q: What's red, round, and healthy to eat?

A: Tomatoes!

Tomatoes and other red and pink fruits contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene. Studies have shown that eating foods rich in lycopene may reduce your risk of developing certain forms of cancer and macular degeneration (eye disease).

What is Lycopene?

Lycopene is considered to be an antioxidant. This compound acts as a scavenger to free radical cells (cancer-causing cells). Lycopene neutralizes these types of cells, reducing your risk of developing certain forms of cancer. Lycopene comes from the diet and is stored throughout the body in the colon, liver, lungs, prostate, and skin.

Diet and Lycopene

Although research has not established recommended daily intakes for lycopene, it is recommended to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables that are varied in color. Foods rich in lycopene include tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya, and pink guava. Cooking foods such as tomatoes increases the bioavailability of lycopene in the body.


Lycopene (mg/100 g)

Serving Size

Tomato paste


2 Tablespoon



1 Tablespoon

Spaghetti sauce


½ cup

Tomato sauce


¼ cup

Chili sauce


1 Tablespoon

Seafood cocktail sauce


¼ cup

Tomato soup (condensed)


1 cup prepared

Tomato juice (no salt added)


1 cup



1/16 of whole watermelon

Raw tomato


1 medium

Pink grapefruit


½ medium

* taken from USDA-NCC Carotenoid database for U.S. foods

Lycopene and Prostate Cancer

Researchers have done many studies looking at the relationship between lycopene and prostate cancer since lycopene is heavily stored in the prostate and animal studies show an inverse relationship between amount of lycopene in diet and prostate cancer cell growth rates. One of the most talked about studies was done at Harvard Medical School where researchers studied 47,000 men's fruit and vegetable intake over a six-year period. The tomato, which is rich in lycopene, was the only fruit to be identified that had a correlation to prostate cancer cell growth rates. This study found that diets highest in lycopene had the fewest incidence of prostate cancer. However, a new study that has just been published shows no relationship between dietary lycopene concentration in the body and prostate cancer. This study followed the diets of 28,000 men and found no relationship between lycopene-containing foods and prostate cancer. More research is ongoing at this time to decipher how lycopene is related to cancer cell death.

Lycopene reduces cancer? Further research required

The jury is still out as to whether lycopene truly reduces prostate cancer risk. However, many other studies show that eating foods rich in lycopene reduces the risk of developing cancer of the colon, endometrium, cervix, breast, lung, stomach, pancreas, and skin. Researchers recommend eating foods first as a primary method of increasing your dietary lycopene intake because, unlike supplements, lycopene in foods act synergistically with other compounds to reduce cancer cell formation. It will not harm you to eat foods rich in lycopene. As research continues to tweak out the special properties of lycopene, aiming for the recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day will only help you reduce your risk of developing cancer.

*This article is intended for general information purposes only, is not individual-specific, nor is it intended to replace the advice of your healthcare team.