Lycopene (a beta-carotene) is an antioxidant that is rich in “red family” foods like tomatoes, watermelons, and pink grapefruits. It’s also in apricots, persimmons, papaya, and guava.
Antioxidants are beneficial because they may prevent the risk of cancer by blocking the actions of free radicals that have been associated with causing cell damage.
Several years ago, the general consensus seemed to be that this antioxidant might help prevent prostate cancer.
However, more recent research (and subsequent opinions) appear to be mixed about whether either foods or supplements that contain this antioxidant can help prevent prostate cancer, or slow or prevent prostate cancer progression.
For example, the very large Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial, a randomized National Cancer Institute trial, concluded that it does not effectively prevent prostate cancer.
However, some believe that the PLCO study just confirms that there is no benefit when taken for the short-term. Data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS) and the Physicians' Health Study (PHS), which demonstrated that 2-4 servings of tomato sauce a week consumed at a steady rate over many years may prevent prostate tumors from progressing to more advanced stages.
The results of the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial, which studied finasteride for prostate cancer prevention (a treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia), also did not support the use of this antioxidant as a way to prevent prostate cancer.
More lycopene studies are needed
A recent article by Holzapfel et al suggests that it has proven benefits in laboratory studies, but the benefits need to be proven in humans.
Multiple studies have provided conflicting reports:
It will take more studies to confirm if there is an overall benefit, including whether supplements offer the same benefit as foods that are rich in this antioxidant.
Studies are also needed to determine if raw “red family” foods are more beneficial than cooked foods.
It is interesting, however, that Tang et al have suggested that this antioxidant phytochemical enhances the chemotherapy drug docetaxel's effect in castration-resistant prostate cancer associated with insulin-like growth factor I receptor levels, based on experimental models.
Kristal AR, Till C, Platz EA, Song X, King IB, Neuhouser ML, Ambrosone CB, Thompson IM. Serum lycopene concentration and prostate cancer risk: results from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial.Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2011;20(4):638-46. Epub 2011 Feb 18.
Prostate Cancer Foundation. Interpreting the Data From PLCO.
Interpreting_the_Data_From_PLCO.htm. Accessed April 2, 2009.
Schwenke C, Ubrig B, Thürmann P, Eggersmann C, Roth S. Lycopene
for advanced hormone refractory prostate cancer: a prospective, open
phase II pilot study. J Urol. 2009;181(3):1098-103.
Vaishampayan U, Hussain M, Banerjee M, Seren S, Sarkar FH, Fontana J, Forman JD, Cher ML, Powell I, Pontes JE, Kucuk O. Lycopene and soy isoflavones in the treatment of prostate cancer. Nutr Cancer. 2007;59(1):1-7.
Always consult a medical professional.