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University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
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December 18, 2001 Contact: Nan Hoffman (312) 355-2954, nanhoff@uic.edu


The adage "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" may be facing stiff competition from tomatoes.

Recent research at the University of Illinois at Chicago suggests that lycopene, an antioxidant found in large amounts in tomatoes, may play a significant role in preventing and treating prostate cancer. The findings appear in the Dec. 19 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Phyllis Bowen, associate professor of human nutrition, along with Dr. Longwen Chen, former research associate, and their UIC colleagues, studied a group of 32 prostate cancer patients who consumed one tomato sauce-based pasta dish daily for three weeks before their scheduled prostatectomies.

Levels of oxidative DNA damage and prostate specific antigen, or PSA (an enzyme that is an important marker for the diagnosis of prostate cancer), were measured before and after the pasta regimen. Previous studies suggest that human prostate tissue is particularly vulnerable to oxidative DNA damage, which occurs when oxygen molecules in the tissue attack the DNA, creating cellular instability. This instability can lead to the formation of malignant tumors.

A high level of lycopene was present in the prostate tissues after the intervention and surgery and oxidative DNA damage was reduced by 28 percent, a statistically significant finding. PSA levels were reduced by 17.5 percent, but the researchers said more studies are needed to determine whether lycopene is responsible for the PSA reduction.

Although other researchers have investigated lycopene in previous studies, this is the first study of its kind yielding statistically significant results with a whole food regimen versus lycopene supplements.

"We're encouraged by the results of this study," Bowen said. "The lower prostate oxidative DNA damage in men consuming tomato sauce suggests a role for tomato sauce and possibly for lycopene in the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer."

However, Bowen noted, this study had a small sample size. A larger study is in progress involving patients with and without diagnosed prostate cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in American men (lung cancer ranks first). At the start of this year, the society estimated that 198,000 men would be diagnosed with prostate cancer, with 31,500 deaths.

The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute (one of the National Institutes of Health) and Hunt-Wesson, Inc.

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