Study Suggests Tomatoes May Help Prevent Cancer

A study conducted on mice has found that consuming dried tomato reduces skin cancer tumors by half. The study has exciting potential implications for cancer prevention in humans.

Skin cancer is one of the most common forms in the United States. The American Cancer Society reports that there are more cases of non-melanoma skin cancer each year than the number of breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancers combined. While non-melanoma skin cancer is not often deadly, it brings pain, expense, and in some cases disfigurement. It is little wonder that scientists have been researching ways to combat it.

A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that dried red tomato has a drastic effect on the formation of skin cancer tumors. In the study, mice were fed a diet containing 10 percent tomato powder for 35 weeks. Later, they were exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, which causes cancer, but the male mice saw 50% fewer tumors than mice without the dried tomato in their diet. In female mice, there was no significant difference in numbers of tumors. Some mice were fed tangerine tomatoes, and they did exhibit fewer tumors than the control group, but this result was not statistically significant.

The difference in results between sexes suggests that cancer formation and treatment can vary across populations. Previous research has indicated that male mice develop more aggressive, larger tumors more quickly.

The Tomato Connection

Jessica Cooperstone, co-author and research scientist in the Department of Food Science and Technology in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State, explained the possible connection between eating tomato and lower rates of tumor development: it is thought that dietary carotenoids, which give tomatoes their red color, could help guard skin from damage inflicted by UV light. Carotenoids are deposited in the skin after eating, and they may shield the mice from the harmful effects of UV.

There is reason to believe that the results of this study will help prevent or treat cancer in humans: previous studies have indicated that eating tomato paste can reduce the damage of sunburns. This suggests that the storage of carotenoids in the skin may work in humans much like it does in mice.

The difference in results across the sexes suggests that “we do need to consider sex when exploring different preventive strategies” even in humans, Cooperstone said. “What works in men may not always work equally well in women and vice versa.”

Further, Cooperstone noted that there may be more researched to be done on the healing properties of tomatoes: “Lycopene, the primary carotenoid in tomatoes, has been shown to be the most effective antioxidant of these pigments,” she said. “However, when comparing lycopene administered from a whole food (tomato) or a synthesized supplement, tomatoes appear more effective in preventing redness after UV exposure, suggesting other compounds in tomatoes may also be at play.”

Future studies will investigate exactly which compounds best combat skin cancer, and the results could eventually inform new cancer treatments. As such a ubiquitous and deadly disease, the more information that can be gleaned on how to properly treat and fight cancer, the better for the future health of our society at large. Cancer is one of the top killers in our current day and age; any information that thwarts that rise is crucial.