Lycopene is a non-pro-vitamin A carotenoid present in papaya, grapefruit, watermelons, and tomatoes. Laboratory experimentation involving Lycopene has revealed that if used as a dietary supplement, its potent antioxidant and anticancer properties can make it a cancer-fighting agent. Some of the top food sources containing Lycopene include tomato pure (21.8 mg.), sun-dried tomatoes (45.9 mg), guava (5.2 mg), fresh tomatoes (3.0 mg), watermelon (4.5 mg), papaya (1.8 mg), canned tomatoes (2.7 mg), and pink grapefruit (1.1 mg).
Several studies report that diets rich in fruits and vegetables containing Lycopene can affect the way cells develop and interact with each other, and scientists have come up with a few theories that explain how Lycopene fights cancer. Inhibiting cell growth, prevention of DNA damage, and improving the functionality of enzymes that disintegrate cancer-causing products are some of the mechanisms by which Lycopene can affect the progress of cancer.
Prostate cancer: The team led by Edward Giovannucci has discovered that the intake of Lycopene supplements is associated with a reduced risk of developing lethal Prostate Cancer. The study results published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute indicates that with the coming of prostate-specific antigen screening, an early-stage, asymptomatic, and indolent Prostate Cancer diagnosis is now possible. But the easy detection of lethal Prostate Cancer is a work in progress, and focusing on Lycopene studies might provide a result for the same.
The research concluded that higher consumption of dietary Lycopene is inversely linked with any type of prostate cancer, but mostly with lethal Prostate Cancer. Lycopene can also target tumors in the prostate with less angiogenic potential.4
Colorectal cancer: Epidemiologic studies have long since advocated that high tomato consumption can significantly bring down the risk factor related to Colorectal Cancer. Several researchers suspected this was owing to the presence of the carotenoid pigment Lycopene in tomatoes. They conducted a study to assess the relationship between colorectal adenomas and plasma Lycopene concentrations by observing 73 patients with adenomas, 63 healthy individuals, and 29 patients with hyperplastic polyps. The findings published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition point out that patients diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer had less plasma Lycopene concentration when compared to healthy participants. Thus, the researchers concluded that Lycopene contributes to the protective property of tomatoes against the risk of contracting colorectal adenomas.
Lung cancer: Recent epidemiological studies prove that Lycopene has a chemopreventive effect against several cancers that affect the epithelial cells, such as Lung Cancer. In an experiment, scientists found that Lycopene can reduce the incidence rate of lung adenocarcinomas in mice when subjected to chemical carcinogens. The study further investigated to what extent can Lycopene suppress the growth of cells and its multiplication, and inhibit the neoplastic transformation of mouse and human cells. However, the research couldn't find if cooked tomatoes can affect smoke-induced lung carcinogenesis.
Ovarian cancer: A study performed to investigate the effects of Lycopene on SKOV3 Ovarian Cancer cells in vitro found that the carotenoid could significantly reduce proliferation or replication of the cells and bring about apoptosis, i.e., programmed cell death.
Breast cancer: To record the influence of Lycopene on breast cancer, Howard D. Sesso and Julie E. Buring, with their team, observed 39,876 healthy women over 9.9 years. Medical history and relevant data were collected, and during the 9.9 years of follow-up, the researchers found 1,076 Breast Cancer cases. When cross-referencing results, they derived the following conclusion.
Since those who included lycopene-containing fruits and vegetables in their diet showed reduced susceptibility to breast cancer, and those who didn't include Lycopene in their meals developed Breast Cancer symptoms, Lycopene has properties to inhibit human mammary cells from growing and multiplying. Also, Lycopene has displayed the possibility of being able to subdue insulin-like growth factor-I, which has been associated with a high risk of premenopausal Breast Cancer.
Experts recommend regular use of Lycopene as an anticancer strategy to suppress abnormal cell growth as it has got characteristics to ensure a regulated cell cycle. Research backs up that Lycopene prevents carcinogenesis by protecting lipids, proteins, lipoproteins, DNA, and critical cellular biomolecules.
For instance, the research findings published by Ho and others in Cancer revealed that high consumption of foods with rich Lycopene content lowered the risk of developing kidney cancer, namely, renal cell carcinoma, especially in postmenopausal women. The study involved 96,196 women, and during follow-up, the research team found that 240 participants were diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma. In an investigation, the study authors realized that these participants consumed Lycopene less when compared to the healthy participants. Women who ingested more Lycopene had a 39% lower risk of getting diagnosed with kidney cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, intake of more than 30 mg of Lycopene regularly could cause diarrhoea, nausea, bloating, and indigestion. Since tomatoes are rich in citric acid and malic acid, consuming too many of them can trigger acidity in your stomach and cause acid reflux or heartburn. Thus, medical experts recommend those who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease and digestive Stress to limit themselves to few tomatoes.
Some patients have also reported a case of lycopenemia, i.e., deep orange discoloration of the skin resulting from ingesting too many tomatoes.2
In any case, it's not wise to self-administer Lycopene supplements or medicines in general, especially if you want to make it a part of your complementary therapy to treat cancer better. Hence, the best alternative is to follow the guidance of your oncologist or cancer center. Find out with their help what dosage would work well for you and help you achieve effective results