Also known by these names
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 BCCT because of its potential cancer-preventive, anticancer and chemotherapy-enhancing properties. It is included in the integrative cancer care protocols/plans of three of BCCT’s 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
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
Reducing the risk of developing cancer or the risk of recurrence
- 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
- 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,16 but not against advanced prostate cancer.17
Lab and Animal Evidence
Optimizing Your Terrain
- Lycopene is a potent anti-oxidant.21
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.
Lycopene is widely available in food sources and in supplements.
BCCT 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:
- Solutions 4 Health:
- Natural Medicines Database (requires purchase)
- Also see the protocols listed below.
Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems
|For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.|
- Programs and protocols
- Alschuler & Gazella complementary approaches22
- Block program23
- Targeted therapy when other treatment isn't working
- Chang strategies24
- Lemole, Mehta & McKee protocols25
- McKinney protocols26
Integrative oncology physician and BCCT 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.”27
Non-cancer Uses of Lycopene
BCCT has not reviewed the effectiveness of this therapy for non-cancer uses.
Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and Nancy Hepp, MS; update August 21, 2019. Note: BCCT 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.
- National Cancer Institute’s PDQ: Prostate Cancer, Nutrition, and Dietary Supplements
- National Cancer Institute: Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Health Professionals
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: About Herbs, Botanicals and Other Products
- CAM-Cancer Collaboration: CAM-Cancer
- Keith I. Block, MD: Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment
- Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, and Karolyn Gazella: The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition
- Lone Star Medical Group: Natural Alternative Treatments
- National Cancer Institute: Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- Donald I. Abrams, MD, and Andrew T. Weil, MD: Integrative Oncology, 2nd Edition
- Raymond Chang, MD: Beyond the Magic Bullet: The Anti-Cancer Cocktail
- Keith Block and others: A Broad-Spectrum Integrative Design for Cancer Prevention and Therapy