FDA finds no strong link between tomatoes and reduced cancer risk

July 11, 2007

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review has found only limited evidence for an association between eating tomatoes and a decreased risk of certain cancers, according to an article published online July 10 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Several studies have reported an association between the consumption of tomatoes or lycopene, an antioxidant that gives tomatoes their red hue, and a decreased risk of some cancers, particularly prostate cancer. In order for foods and dietary supplements to be labeled with such health claims, the FDA must review and approve these claims based on the available scientific evidence.

In a review article, Claudine Kavanaugh, Ph.D., of the FDA in College Park, Md., and colleagues describe the agency’s November 2005 evaluation of the scientific evidence linking tomatoes or tomato-based foods, lycopene, and reduced cancer risk.

Their review found no evidence that tomatoes reduced the risk of lung, colorectal, breast, cervical, or endometrial cancer. However, there was very limited evidence for associations between tomato consumption and reduced risk of prostate, ovarian, gastric, and pancreatic cancers. Based on this assessment, the FDA decided to allow qualified health claims for a very limited association between tomatoes and these four cancers. Their analysis found no credible evidence that lycopene, either in food or in a dietary supplement, was associated with reduced risk of any of the cancers evaluated.

For prostate cancer, for example, the FDA issued this statement: “Very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests that eating one-half to one cup of tomatoes and/or tomato sauce a week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. [The] FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim.”

In one of the accompanying editorials, Paul Coates, Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., discusses some of the issues the FDA had to contend with in conducting their review, such as the limited number of available clinical trials and the challenge of communicating to the public the subtleties of the FDA’s decision.

“Neither of these concerns, however, diminishes the importance of using evidence-based review principles to evaluate important diet-health relationships. In fact, it may be argued that evaluating a diet-health relationship is precisely the circumstance in which systematic review techniques can be most appropriate and effective because they are transparent and objective, and the search and review strategies could be exactly reproduced by others,” Coates writes.

In the second editorial, Edward Giovannucci, M.D., Sc.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston suggests that the widespread use of PSA (prostate-specific antigen) screening may influence the data on the association between tomato and lycopene consumption and prostate cancer risk.

“Given the complexities of studying the relationship between tomato or lycopene intake and prostate cancer risk, both in terms of the exposures and the outcome, one should not be too surprised that no firm conclusion of benefit would be made in the FDA review…Although it may be premature to espouse increased consumption of tomato sauce or lycopene for prostate cancer prevention, this area of research remains promising,” Giovannucci writes.

Source: Journal of the National Cancer Institute

Explore further: Turbocharging drug development and production with less paperwork

Related Stories

FDA reviews 2 new drugs to reduce prostate cancer

November 29, 2010

(AP) -- Health regulators said Monday that two drugs from GlaxoSmithKline and Merck reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men, though scientists questioned the drugs' overall benefit, since the tumors they prevent are usually ...

VCs bet big on Silicon Valley biotech

May 28, 2015

Companies searching for cures for cancer and testing treatments for crippling genetic diseases are capturing the interest of venture capitalists - and their money - more than at any time in the last seven years.

Why Americans can't buy some of the best sunscreens

May 27, 2015

With summer nearly here, U.S. consumers might think they have an abundance of sunscreen products to choose from. But across the Atlantic, Europeans will be slathering on formulations that manufacturers say provide better ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.