We’re busy reviewing the evidence on lycopene. While we’re working, we share the original summary from our predecessor website, Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies.

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Lycopene

Lycopene is a carotenoid, a natural pigment made by plants and microorganisms. The best sources of lycopene are tomatoes and tomato products. Small amounts are also found in guava, watermelon and pink grapefruit.1 Tomato products have tended to be used most in studies related to lycopene and cancer. Lycopene is absorbed better when taken with dietary fats such as olive oil.

Lycopene may also be taken as a dietary supplement. NCI’s PDQ summary states: “The FDA has accepted the determination by various companies that their lycopene-containing products meet the FDA’s requirements for the designation of GRAS” (generally regarded as safe).2 However, quality control is an issue. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s About Herbs summary states that lycopene content varied from the labeled dosage by as much as 43 percent in an analysis of six commercially prepared brands.3

Lycopene is of interest to CancerChoices because of its potential cancer preventive, anticancer and chemotherapy-enhancing properties. It is included in the integrative cancer care protocols/plans of three of CancerChoices medical advisors, all integrative cancer care physicians.

Treating the Cancer

Working against cancer growth or spread, improving survival, or working with other treatments or therapies to improve their anticancer action

Clinical Evidence

Small clinical trials suggest lycopene may provide benefit in cancer, among other conditions. However, results in prostate cancer patients in different stages of the disease have been inconsistent.4 One study found that lycopene supplementation stabilized serum PSA level in men with rising serum PSA following local therapy or while on hormone therapy, both alone or in combination with soy isoflavones.5

Lab and Animal Evidence

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Reducing Risk

Reducing the risk of developing cancer or the risk of recurrence

Clinical Evidence

  • High intake of lycopene has been effective in decreasing the damage from both natural toxins—including mycotoxins and bacterial toxins—and chemical toxics, including heavy metals and pesticides.11
  • Lycopene is chemopreventive against head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.12
  • Clinical studies have reported an association of lycopene and other components of a Mediterranean diet with a reduction in colorectal cancer initiation and progression.13
  • Large, population-based studies associate lycopene with lower risk of these cancers:14
    • Estrogen-receptor-positive (ER+) and progesterone-receptor-positive (PR+) breast cancers
    • ER−/PR+ or ER−/PR− breast cancers
    • Lung cancer
    • Stomach cancer
  • Findings in human trials of risk reduction in prostate cancer have been inconsistent, with some reviews finding little or no effect15 and others finding a protective effect, with increasing benefit up to circulating lycopene of 85 μg/dL,16 but not against advanced prostate cancer.17

Lab and Animal Evidence

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Optimizing Your Terrain

Creating an environment within your body that does not support cancer development, growth or spread

  • Lycopene is a potent antioxidant.20

Cautions

In clinical trials for prostate cancer prevention or treatment, lycopene was generally well tolerated. Side effects were typically mild and tended to be gastrointestinal. A possible interaction between lycopene and alcohol consumption was found in studies with animals.

Access

Lycopene is widely available in food sources and in supplements.

Dosing

CancerChoices does not recommend therapies or doses, but only provides information for patients and providers to consider as part of a complete treatment plan. Patients should discuss therapies with their physicians, as contraindications, interactions and side effects must be evaluated. Levels of active ingredients of natural products can vary widely between and even within products. See Quality and Sources of Herbs, Supplements and Other Natural Products.

Although no optimal lycopene dose in cancer prevention or treatment has been established, suggested dosages are found from these sources:

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

  • Programs and protocols
    • Alschuler & Gazella complementary approaches21
      • Gastric cancer (lifestyle and diet)
      • Head and neck cancer
      • Prostate cancer
      • Foundation diet
      • Immune enhancement
    • Block program22
      • Targeted therapy when other treatment isn’t working
    • Chang strategies23
    • Lemole, Mehta & McKee protocols24
      • Endometrial cancer
      • Prostate cancer
    • McKinney protocols25
      • Cervical cancer
      • Colorectal cancer
      • Prostate cancer

Commentary

Integrative oncology physician and CancerChoices advisor Keith Block, MD, cites a randomized study of patients awaiting surgery to remove the prostate who ate a daily tomato concentrate for several weeks after their cancer diagnosis. Those in the intervention group (eating tomatoes) had smaller tumors and lower PSA levels than those in the control group. Dr. Block states: “That raises the intriguing possibility that lycopene can play an important supporting role in ‘watchful waiting’ after a diagnosis of prostate cancer, taming the malignancy so that you die of old age before it ever threatens your life.”26

Note: CancerChoices has not conducted an independent review of research of lycopene. This summary draws from the National Cancer Institute’s PDQ®, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center About Herbs and other sources as noted.

Resources

References

  1. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. How Lycopene Helps Protect against Cancer. Viewed December 28, 2017.
  2. National Cancer Institute. Prostate Cancer, Nutrition, and Dietary Supplements (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version: Lycopene. October 20, 2017. Viewed December 28, 2017.
  3. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. About Herbs: Lycopene. December 12, 2017. Viewed December 28, 2017.
  4. Morgia G, Voce S et al. Association between selenium and lycopene supplementation and incidence of prostate cancer: results from the post-hoc analysis of the Procomb trial. Phytomedicine. 2017 Oct 15;34:1-5.
  5. Vaishampayan U, Hussain M et al. Lycopene and soy isoflavones in the treatment of prostate cancer. Nutrition and Cancer. 2007;59(1):1-7.
  6. Carini F, David S et al. Colorectal cancer: an update on the effects of lycopene on tumor progression and cell proliferation. Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents. 2017 Jul-Sep;31(3):769-774; Tang Y, Parmakhtiar B et al. Lycopene enhances docetaxel’s effect in castration-resistant prostate cancer associated with insulin-like growth factor I receptor levels. Neoplasia. 2011 Feb;13(2):108-19..
  7. Ateba SB, Mvondo MA et al. Natural terpenoids against female breast cancer: a 5-year recent research. Current Medicinal Chemistry. 2018;25(27):3162-3213. 
  8. Carini F, David S et al. Colorectal cancer: an update on the effects of lycopene on tumor progression and cell proliferation. Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents. 2017 Jul-Sep;31(3):769-774; Aghajanpour M, Nazer MR et al. Functional foods and their role in cancer prevention and health promotion: a comprehensive review. American Journal of Cancer Research. 2017 Apr 1;7(4):740-769.
  9. Holzapfel NP, Shokoohmand A et al. Lycopene reduces ovarian tumor growth and intraperitoneal metastatic load. American Journal of Cancer Research. 2017 Jun 1;7(6):1322-1336. eCollection 2017.
  10. Tang Y, Parmakhtiar B et al. Lycopene enhances docetaxel’s effect in castration-resistant prostate cancer associated with insulin-like growth factor I receptor levels. Neoplasia. 2011 Feb;13(2):108-19.
  11. Hedayati N, Naeini MB et al. Protective effect of lycopene against chemical and natural toxins: a review. Biofactors. 2018 Oct 19.
  12. Crooker K, Aliani R et al. A review of promising natural chemopreventive agents for head and neck cancer. Cancer Prevention Research (Phila). 2018 Aug;11(8):441-450.
  13. Farinetti A, Zurlo V, Manenti A, Coppi F, Mattioli AV. Mediterranean diet and colorectal cancer: a systematic review. Nutrition. 2017 Nov – Dec;43-44:83-88.
  14. Cataño JG, Trujillo CG et al. [Efficacy of lycopene intake in primary prevention of prostate cancer: a systematic review of the literature and meta-analysis.] [Article in Spanish]. Archivos Espanoles de Urologia. 2018 Mar;71(2):187-197; Baena Ruiz R, Salinas Hernández P. Cancer chemoprevention by dietary phytochemicals: epidemiological evidence. Maturitas. 2016 Dec;94:13-19; Abar L, Vieira AR et al. Blood concentrations of carotenoids and retinol and lung cancer risk: an update of the WCRF-AICR systematic review of published prospective studies. Cancer Medicine. 2016 Aug;5(8):2069-83. doi: 10.1002/cam4.676; Kim MJ, Kim H. Anticancer effect of lycopene in gastric carcinogenesis. Journal of Cancer Prevention. 2015 Jun;20(2):92-6; Bae JM. Reinterpretation of the results of a pooled analysis of dietary carotenoid intake and breast cancer risk by using the interval collapsing method. Epidemiology and Health. 2016 Jun 2;38:e2016024.
  15. Morgia G, Voce S et al. Association between selenium and lycopene supplementation and incidence of prostate cancer: Results from the post-hoc analysis of the Procomb trial. Phytomedicine. 2017 Oct 15;34:1-5.
  16. Chen P, Zhang W et al. Lycopene and risk of prostate cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2015 Aug;94(33):e1260.
  17. Rowles JL 3rd, Ranard KM, Smith JW, An R, Erdman JW Jr. Increased dietary and circulating lycopene are associated with reduced prostate cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Diseases. 2017 Dec;20(4):361-377.
  18. Koh MS, Hwang JS, Moon AR. Lycopene inhibits proliferation, invasion and migration of human breast cancer cells. Biomolecules & Therapeutics. 2010;18:92–8; Ko EY, Moon A. Natural products for chemoprevention of breast cancer. Journal of Cancer Prevention. 2015 Dec;20(4):223-31.
  19. Aghajanpour M1, Nazer MR et al. Functional foods and their role in cancer prevention and health promotion: a comprehensive review. American Journal of Cancer Research. 2017 Apr 1;7(4):740-769. eCollection 2017.
  20. Chaudhary P, Sharma A, Singh B, Nagpal AK. Bioactivities of phytochemicals present in tomato. Journal of Food Science and Technology. 2018 Aug;55(8):2833-2849.
  21. Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts. 2010; Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Thriving after Cancer: A Five-Step Integrative Plan to Reduce the Risk of Recurrence and Build Lifelong Health. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press. 2013.
  22. Block KI. Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009.
  23. Chang R. Beyond the Magic Bullet: The Anti-Cancer Cocktail. New York: Square One Publishers. 2012.
  24. Lemole G, Mehta P, McKee D. After Cancer Care: The Definitive Self-Care Guide to Getting and Staying Well for Patients with Cancer. New York, New York: Rodale, Inc. 2015.
  25. McKinney N. Naturopathic Oncology, Fourth Edition. Victoria, BC, Canada: Liaison Press. 2020.
  26. Block KI. Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Care. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009. p. 70.