Prostate cancer is one of the biggest cancer killers in industrial countries and affects more than half a million men worldwide every year. This number is expected to increase with the ageing population.
Epidemiological evidence has suggested that tomato-based foods can protect men from prostate cancer. One study found that men eating four to five tomato based-dishes per week were 25 per cent less likely to develop prostate cancer compared to men eating tomatoes only rarely.
Such findings are boosting the lycopene market, with growth rates forecast at over 100 per cent by Frost and Sullivan, albeit from a low base of around €27m ($34m) in 2003.
The new study, published in the journal Urological Oncology: Seminars and Original Investigations (Vol. 23, pp. 383-385), selected 40 men with high-grade prostate intraepithelial neoplasia (HGPIN), a precursor to prostate cancer, and randomly assigned half of these men to receive a daily supplement of eight milligrams of lycopene (LycoRed's Lyc-O-Mato) for one year and followed for a futher year. The other 20 men received nothing but were followed periodically during the two-year study.
The researchers, led by Nayan Mohanty from V M Medical College and Safdarjang Hospital in New Delhi, reported that blood levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a protein that is used as a marker for the disease, decreased by 42 per cent after supplementation. Blood lycopene concentrations increased by 88 per cent.
In the control group, PSA levels increased by 23 per cent, while, as could be expected, serum lycopene levels decreased by 52 per cent.
"This initial small trial has shown that lycopene is an effective chemopreventive agent in preventing HGPIN from becoming prostate cancer," said MohantyThe researchers concluded that a larger clinical trial is needed to further establish the association between lycopene and prostate cancer protection.
Dr Chris Hiley, head of policy and research at UK-based The Prostate Cancer Charity, said recently: "Over recent years, prostate cancer researchers have repeatedly returned to questions about the role of the antioxidant, lycopene, in diet - particularly from tomato-based products - in light of its apparent association with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.
Not all studies are positive, but many are. We still can't come to a firm conclusion that the risk of prostate cancer is reduced by increasing lycopene intake, but it is very clear that men should eat a varied and healthy diet, and tomato and tomato-based products have a place in that," she said.
British supermarket giant Tesco has launched a British-grown tomato that offers double the lycopene content of normal tomatoes, and public interest is already on the rise, say Tesco, with demand for tomatoes reported to have soared by 10 per cent in the last year.