The most common form of cancer among men in the United States is prostate cancer, affecting roughly 500,000 U. S. males each year, and rising.  In fact, in the last fifteen years, the incidence of prostate cancer has risen by 1.7 percent.

In the past, patients with prostate cancer have been treated with hormone therapy and radiation, and those with advanced-stage cancers have been treated with chemotherapy.  Now, scientists have uncovered a natural, potentially viable defense against prostate cancer in the form of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in red fruits and vegetables.

Antioxidants are phytochemicals that help protect the body from free radicals which can damage cells and lead to disease.  While lycopene can be found in certain berries, guava, papaya, watermelon and red grapefruit, the highest concentrations can be found in tomatoes.  It has been shown that this lycopene is most easily absorbed by the body when tomatoes are cooked or dressed with some type of oil.

In fact, research in Germany found that raw tomatoes and tomato juice are not absorbed as well as tomatoes cooked with a little oil and made into a sauce.  It is thought that greater amounts of lycopene are released with crushing and cooking of tomatoes, and fat from the oil helps with more efficient absorption.

As lycopene has consistently been found in the prostate gland, many researchers have wondered if it might play a part in the growth of prostate tissue or provide it with some kind of protection.  This led to the examination of populations who eat a lot of tomatoes and tomato products like those in southern Mediterranean countries.  It was found that these populations showed a lower incidence of prostate cancer than populations who do not consume large amounts of tomatoes.

A study from Harvard Medical School showed that the consumption of four foods appeared to lower risks for developing prostate cancer.  These were tomato-based pasta sauce, pizza with tomato sauce, tomatoes and strawberries.  It was found that men who consumed at least 10 servings of these foods each week reduced chances for developing prostate cancer by 45 percent, and men who consumed four to seven servings lowered risks by 20 percent.

In preparation for a study on men about to have a biopsy for prostate cancer, a whole foods intervention was carried out on 32 men who had already developed this form of cancer.  The intervention showed that diets rich in lycopene may also benefit those who currently have cancer of the prostate.

The men received tomato sauce containing 30 mg of lycopene per day for 21 days.  This amount was chosen because it approximates the daily amount that would be gained by eating foods like spaghetti or pizza made with tomato sauce.  Blood levels of lycopene increased by nearly 2 percent, and prostate levels were raised by nearly 3 percent.  Also, PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels were lowered by 17.5 percent.

Although this is a small segment of a very large group, the results are encouraging.  More testing is needed to replicate findings, but men may want to increase intake of tomatoes and tomato-based products in the meantime.  Lycopene can also be taken as a supplement in tablet or gel cap form, and it is found in some daily multi-vitamin products.  It is recommended that people consult with a healthcare provider before starting a supplementary regimen.