Can Tomatoes Help Prevent Cancer?

Tomato Salad
Eating tomatoes may help prevent cancer. Jeff Giniewicz/E+/Getty Images

Tomatoes contain an antioxidant, lycopene, that is said to help in the prevention of cancer. Found naturally in a number of foods, some people take lycopene supplements to reduce their cancer risk, as well as boost their defense against conditions like diabetes and atherosclerosis. While there's no proof that lycopene supplements can fight cancer, some research suggests that increasing your lycopene intake may aid in cancer prevention.

The Science Behind Tomatoes to Prevent Cancer

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there's not enough scientific evidence to determine whether the lycopene in tomatoes can protect against any of the following types of cancer: bladder cancer, breast cancercolorectal cancerlung cancerovarian cancerpancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer.

Still, some studies show that adding more lycopene to the diet may lower cancer risk in certain groups of people. In a 2004 study from Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, for instance, scientists looked at data on 900 men and found that higher blood levels of lycopene were linked to reduced prostate cancer risk among older participants and those without a family history of prostate cancer.

In addition, some studies indicate that a diet high in lycopene (especially from tomatoes) may help prevent ovarian cancer in premenopausal women and reduce risk of pancreatic cancer.

There's also some evidence that a lycopene-rich diet may lower lung cancer risk in people who don't smoke.

On the other hand, a 2005 study from Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention concluded that high blood levels of lycopene are not linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer in middle-aged and older women.

Looking at data on 508 women with breast cancer and 508 breast-cancer-free women, the study's authors found that those with a higher dietary intake of lycopene weren't any less likely to develop breast cancer.

Using Lycopene to Fight Cancer?

Due to a lack of supporting research, lycopene supplements cannot be recommended in the prevention of cancer. What's more, little is known about the safety of taking lycopene supplements for longer than eight weeks. It's also crucial to note that using lycopene supplements as a substitute for standard cancer care can have serious health consequences.

To up your lycopene intake, try adding lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes, tomato sauce, watermelon, pink grapefruit, guava, and apricot to your diet. If you're still considering the use of lycopene supplements in prevention of cancer (or for any other health purposes), talk to your doctor before you begin taking the supplements.


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Haseen F, Cantwell MM, O'Sullivan JM, Murray LJ. "Is there a benefit from lycopene supplementation in men with prostate cancer? A systematic review." Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2009;12(4):325-32.

Michaud DS, Feskanich D, Rimm EB, Colditz GA, Speizer FE, Willett WC, Giovannucci E. "Intake of specific carotenoids and risk of lung cancer in 2 prospective US cohorts." Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Oct;72(4):990-7.

National Institutes of Health. "Lycopene: MedlinePlus Supplements" January 2011.

Nkondjock A, Ghadirian P, Johnson KC, Krewski D; Canadian Cancer Registries Epidemiology Research Group. "Dietary intake of lycopene is associated with reduced pancreatic cancer risk." J Nutr. 2005 Mar;135(3):592-7.

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Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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