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What is the Connection Between Lycopene and Cancer?

By Madeleine A.
Updated May 17, 2024
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The connection between lycopene and cancer refers to the notion that because lycopene is an antioxidant, it may lower the risk of cancer among those who consume it. Antioxidants are substances that block the activity of free radicals, which are compounds that are known to cause cellular damage. Lycopene may be effective in reducing the incidence of prostate cancer, lung cancer, and cancer of the stomach. In addition, lycopene may provide protection against cervical and bladder cancers.

Typically, tomatoes are one of the greatest sources of lycopene, although other foods such as pink grapefruit, apricots, and watermelon are significant sources. In addition, papaya and guava are known to contain high levels of lycopene. The connection between lycopene and cancer may be directly associated to the amount of this substance that is consumed. Generally, lycopene is absorbed better by the gastrointestinal system when taken with foods that contain a small amount oil.

The connection between lycopene and cancer as related to tomato products may have to do with the fact that tomatoes contain not just lycopene, but other antioxidants that may be responsible for the tomato's anti-cancer effects. It is generally accepted that the combination of lycopene and the other antioxidants contained in tomatoes are responsible for lycopene's anti-cancer effect. In addition to preventing cancer, the lycopene-cancer link may extend into the actual treatment of existing cancer.

Studies have been performed linking frequent lycopene intake to a reduction in brain tumor growth. In addition, the lycopene-cancer reduction association has been seen in experiments on suppression of cancer cells that were growing in petri dishes and test tubes. Although the laboratory results are promising and yield valuable information regarding lycopene and cancer, there is no conclusive evidence that these results can be duplicated to benefit humans.

Lycopene supplements are under investigation to determine whether a lycopene and cancer link exists with them. Because lycopene supplements are dietary supplements, they do not get the same scrutiny or testing that drugs undergo by the United States Food and Drug Administration, and therefore manufacturers are not required to disclose whether their products are effective or even safe. This is true as long as the companies to not claim that their supplements have the ability to treat, prevent, or cure a specific disease.

Generally, it is prudent to get nutrients, including lycopene from food sources, unless otherwise recommended by a qualified health care provider. A well balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and grains is important in not only providing optimal nutrition, but may also be beneficial in preventing or reducing the risk of certain diseases including cancer. It is also important to know that people should never self treat with dietary supplements in the belief that they will stave off disease.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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