Lycopene

Also known by these names

  • Nonprovitamin A carotenoid

Key Points

  • Lycopene is a carotenoid, a natural pigment made by plants and microorganisms.
  • The main sources of lycopene in western diets are tomatoes and tomato products. It is also available as a supplement.
  • Lycopene is used as an antioxidant.
  • BCCT’s interest in lycopene is in evidence it has inhibited the growth and proliferation of cancer cells in lab and animal studies, although little clinical trial evidence exists to date. Lycopene may also lower the risk of certain cancers, but results of human trials are inconsistent.
  • Lycopene may enhance effectiveness of certain chemotherapy drugs.
  • Lycopene is considered safe and is generally well tolerated but may interact with alcohol.
  • No optimal dose in cancer prevention or treatment has been established.

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

Clinical Studies

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

Lab and Animal Studies

Read more

Reducing Risk

Reducing the risk of developing cancer or the risk of recurrence

Clinical Evidence

  • Lycopene is a potent anti-oxidant10
  • High intake of lycopene has been effective in decreasing the risk of both natural toxins including mycotoxins, bacterial toxins, and chemical toxins including heavy metals and pesticides.11
  • Large meta-analyses found reduced risk of prostate cancer with both dietary intake and circulating concentrations of lycopene, but not reduced risk of advanced cancer in one analysis.12
  • Lycopene is chemopreventive against head and neck squamous cell carcinoma13
  • Clinical studies have reported an association of lycopene and other components of a Mediterranean diet with a reduction in colorectal cancer initiation and progression.14
  • Large, population-based studies associate lycopene with lower risk of these cancers:15
    • Estrogen-receptor-positive (ER+) and progesterone-receptor-positive (PR+) breast cancers
    • ER−/PR+ or ER−/PR− breast cancer
    • Lung
    • Stomach

Findings in human trials of preventive effects in prostate cancer have been inconsistent, with some reviews finding little or no effect16 and others finding a protective effect,17 but not against advanced prostate cancer.18

Lab and Animal Evidence

Read more

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

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:

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.
  • Programs and protocols

Commentary

Integrative oncology physician 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

Non-cancer Uses of Lycopene

BCCT has not reviewed the effectiveness of this therapy for non-cancer uses.

  • Treating asthma
  • Treating heart disease
  • Preventing and treating macular degeneration.

Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and Nancy Hepp, MS; update April 10, 2019. Note: BCCT has not conducted an independent review of research of cannabis and cannabinoids. This summary draws from the National Cancer Institute’s PDQ®, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center About Herbs and other sources as noted.

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