Prostate cancer is the No. 2 cause of cancer deaths in American men, second to lung cancer. One reason it's so common may be that the prostate tissue is particularly vulnerable to damaging oxidation. And this could be why tomatoes, which contain a strong antioxidant called lycopene, may be prostate-healthy.
Previous studies have shown that men who ate more tomato-based foods had a lower risk of prostate cancer, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In the current study, the researchers studied 32 men with early prostate cancer that was confined to the prostate. Each man was scheduled to have his prostate surgically removed. However, before the surgery, the researchers did blood tests, and then, each man ate one tomato-based pasta dish a day for three weeks.
They had quite the smorgasbord to choose from -- sausage lasagna, baked rigatoni, penne pasta, and stuffed shells. Each entrée included three-quarters of a cup of spaghetti sauce.
The researchers found that the sauce appeared to have a very beneficial effect on the prostate.
The researchers first looked at the amount of oxidative damage before and after the three-week pasta feast. Oxidation has been linked to cancer. But the researchers found much less oxidation after this time period.
And the blood test results also showed dramatic improvement. As expected, the blood levels of lycopene increased, as did the amount of the antioxidant lycopene in the prostate tissue itself.
But what could be even more important, PSA levels -- the blood tests used to help detect prostate cancer -- decreased during the three-week period. This indicates that the number of cancer cells may have decreased before surgery.
These findings suggest that something in tomato sauce, likely lycopene, may be effective in the fight against prostate cancer, according to the researchers. There is a study going on right now, looking at the role lycopene plays in preventing and treating prostate cancer.