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Tomatoes Protect Women at Risk for Breast Cancer


Tomatoes are widely known for their rich antioxidant content, which may help reduce the risk of cancer. Prostate cancer is the best-researched type of cancer in relationship to tomato intake, but women can enjoy their benefits as well. A new study links tomato consumption to a lowered risk of breast cancer in at-risk postmenopausal women.

Researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center studied the effects of a tomato-rich diet in a group of 70 postmenopausal women. For ten weeks, the women ate tomato products containing at least 25 milligrams of lycopene daily. Lycopene is one of the primary phytochemicals found in tomatoes which possesses antioxidant and antiproliferative properties, suggesting their consumption leads to a lowered risk of cancer.

The women experienced a 9% increased level of adiponectin, a hormone involved in regulating blood sugar and fat levels. Higher levels of fatty acids can lead to resistance to insulin which is associated with the development of certain cancers, including breast cancer. The effect was most pronounced in women who were currently of healthy weight, indicating a possible “window of opportunity.”

“The advantages of eating plenty of tomatoes and tomato-based products, even for a short period, were clearly evident in our findings,” said the study’s first author, Adana Llanos, PhD, MPH, who is now an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Rutgers University.

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“Eating fruits and vegetables, which are rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals such as lycopene, conveys significant benefits. Based on this data, we believe regular consumption of at least the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables would promote breast cancer prevention in an at-risk population.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women with more than 200,000 women being diagnosed in 2010 (the most recent year numbers currently available.) Risk factors associated with a greater incidence of disease include:
• Aging – the risk increases as you get older.
• Genetics – About 5 to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary
• Race and Ethnicity – Overall, white women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African-American women, however, African-American women are more likely to die from the disease.

Lifestyle factors associated with a greater risk of breast cancer include:
• Hormone therapy – including birth control pills and post-menopause therapy
• Alcohol consumption and tobacco smoke
• Being overweight or obese – raises risk by increasing estrogen levels
• Lack of physical activity (As little as 1.25 to 2.5 hours per week of brisk walking can reduce risk by 18%)
• Diet – there appears to be a link between low intake of fruits and vegetables and many types of cancer, but those studies are overall inconsistent. However, the intake of fresh foods that maintain health and weight status are good for preventing disease overall.

In addition to prostate and breast cancer risk reduction, tomatoes are also linked to a reduced risk of non-small cell lung cancer and pancreatic cancer.

Journal Reference:
AA Llanos et al. Effects of Tomato and Soy on Serum Adipokine Concentrations in Postmenopausal Women at Increased Breast Cancer Risk: A Cross-Over Dietary Intervention Trial. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism

Additional Resources:
World’s Healthiest Foods – George Mateljan Foundation
American Institute for Cancer Research
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Breast Cancer Statistics
American Cancer Society – Breast Cancer Risk Factors



I have consumed tomatoes regularly from very early in life and mostly in cooked form. In fact it is one of my favourites. However, at the age of 74 I was detected with prostate cancer (Gleason score 7) and had to undergo radical prostatectomy. Considering the fact that both my paternal grandfather and father's maternal uncle (grandmother's brother) died of prostate cancer at age 57-60, should I consider that I have been protected by tomatoes long enough? Could anybody respond to this?