September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer affecting men in the US. It is estimated that 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. For African-Americans, 1 in 5 men will develop prostate cancer. The good news? If prostate cancer is detected in its early stage, most men will not experience any symptoms and it is treatable according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation (

Guidelines on prostate cancer screening differ among various medical groups. It is not clear if the benefit of testing, including PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels, for all men outweigh the risks of potential false positives or finding and treating cancers that may never even cause any problems in their lifetime. Men should make an informed decision about prostate cancer screening. You can find more information at about prostate cancer screening at

One nutrient that you often hear in conjunction with prostate cancer risk is lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant in the phytochemical (plant chemical) family of carotenoids. It gives certain foods such as tomatoes and watermelon their beautiful red color. Lycopene is considered one of the free radical-fighting antioxidants. Free radicals cause damage to cells and can contribute to the development of disease, including cancer. Antioxidants such as lycopene can destroy free radicals and thus may help protect against cancer.



The 2014 American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) Continuous Update Report downgraded the link between prostate cancer risk and foods containing lycopene from "strong evidence of decreased risk" to "no conclusion possible". The report went on to clarify that it doesn’t mean that necessarily that there is not a link between prostate cancer and lycopene, but because of variations in prostate cancer diagnosis and disease classifications, the link is more difficult to see and more research is needed.

However, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis* published in 2017 found that increased dietary intake and circulating blood levels of lycopene were predictive of reduced risk of prostate cancer. There was no association seen though for risk of advanced prostate cancer.


Whether or not lycopene plays a definitive role in the risk of prostate cancer, foods naturally high in lycopene are part of an overall cancer protective diet that emphasizes plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. The American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention recommends:

  • Eating at least 2 ½ cups of a wide variety of vegetables and fruits each day
  • Choosing whole grains instead of refined grain products
  • Being physically active – at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week
  • Avoiding excess weight gain – for those overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight has health benefits


Foods highest in lycopene include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Tomato products – tomato juice, tomato sauce, tomato paste, even ketchup!
  •  Pink grapefruit
  •  Watermelon

Interestingly, lycopene is actually better absorbed from cooked or processed tomatoes than fresh tomatoes. Also, having lycopene-containing foods with a source of fat (such as olive oil) increases the lycopene absorption in the body. Lycopene is insoluble in water but can stain porous materials, including most plastics. If you’ve ever stored tomato sauce in a plastic container you know that it is almost impossible with get rid of the stain, even with hot water and detergent! One tip is to spray the container with cooking spray or brush it with olive oil before putting the sauce in, or even better, using glass containers, especially if you are going to heat it in the container.

Ways to increase lycopene (from tomatoes) in your diet:

  • While cooked tomatoes provide the best source of bioavailable lycopene, enjoy fresh, raw tomatoes in season! Nothing beats a tomato sandwich dripping with juice!
  •  Mix sun-dried tomatoes with green beans or cooked dried beans and peas
  • Top a baked potato with jarred salsa (the canning/jarring process heats the tomatoes)
  • Try this Roasted Red Pepper Marinara. Serve with whole-wheat pasta or use as a dip or sauce (it’s wonderful over baked chicken!).


*Rowles III, et al. Increased dietary and circulating lycopene are associated with reduced prostate cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases (2017) 00, 1-17.

Other recipes featuring foods high in lycopene to try:

Eggs in Purgatory

Summertime Chili

Minted Fruit Salad (using watermelon)

American Institute for Cancer Research;   

American Institute for Cancer Research; 

Laura RutledgeComment