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No magic tomato? Study breaks link between lycopene and prostate cancer prevention

Tomatoes might be nutritious and tasty, but don’t count on them to prevent prostate cancer. In the May issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, researchers based at the National Cancer Institute and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center report that lycopene, an antioxidant predominately found in tomatoes, does not effectively prevent prostate cancer. In fact, the researchers noted an association between beta-carotene, an antioxidant related to lycopene, and an increased risk for aggressive prostate cancer.

According to the researchers, the study is one of the largest to evaluate the role of blood concentrations of lycopene and other carotenoid antioxidants in preventing prostate cancer. Study data were derived from over 28,000 men enrolled in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial, an ongoing, randomized National Cancer Institute trial to evaluate cancer screening methods and to investigate early markers of cancer.

"It is disappointing, since lycopene might have offered a simple and inexpensive way to lower prostate cancer risk for men concerned about this common disease," said Ulrike Peters, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. "Unfortunately, this easy answer just does not work."

Previous studies suggested that a diet rich in lycopene protected against prostate cancer, spurring commercial and public interest in the antioxidant. Antioxidants protect against free radicals, highly reactive atoms and molecules that can damage DNA and other important molecules in the cell. Since free radical damage increases with age, there has been a long-held suspicion in the scientific community that free radical damage could increase the risk of prostate cancer, a disease that has been clearly associated with age.

Subsequent studies of the potentially protective role of lycopene have been contradictory or inconclusive, according to Peters. In a 2006 study, she a
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Source:American Association for Cancer Research


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