Study Finds Lycopene May Be Associated With Lower Risk for Kidney Cancer in Postmenopausal Women


Key Points

  • Compared with women who reported a lower intake of lycopene, those who ingested more had a 39% lower risk of kidney cancer.
  • A low-salt diet, in addition to lycopene, may help in warding off kidney cancer.
  • Lycopene consumption is also associated with decreased risk of breast and prostate cancers.

A higher intake by postmenopausal women of lycopene, an antioxidant found in foods like tomatoes, watermelon, and papaya, may lower the risk of renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer. A study describing these findings was published by Ho et al in Cancer.

In 2014, 63,920 estimated new cases of kidney and renal pelvis cancer made up 3.8% of all new cancer cases, according to the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. In 2011, there were an estimated 358,603 people living with the cancer in the United States. It is the eighth-leading cancer among women, and is commonly diagnosed at a more advanced stage.

Study Findings

A team led by Cathryn Bock, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor of Oncology at Wayne State University's School of Medicine, made the conclusion after analyzing data from 96,196 postmenopausal women who enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative from 1993 to 1998, and were followed through July 2013 by participating initiative sites, including Wayne State University.

“We were surprised to observe a protective effect of lycopene, as several previous studies in other populations did not detect a similar relationship,” Dr. Bock said.

The investigators analyzed the risks for kidney cancer associated with intake of lycopene and other micronutrients that have antioxidant properties, including lutein and vitamins C and E. During follow-up, 240 women were diagnosed with kidney cancer. Compared with women who reported a lower intake of lycopene, those who ingested more had a 39% lower risk. No other micronutrient was significantly associated with the same risk.

“Kidney cancer is a relatively rare cancer, and so focusing only on reducing risk of this disease would be short-sighted,” Dr. Bock said. “Rather, a diet focused on one's own personal risk factors, such as family history, would be more beneficial.”

Diet Recommendations

A low-salt diet is recommended for women with a risk of hypertension, a major risk factor for kidney cancer. There are other steps women can take now for their health, including eating more foods and fruits with naturally-occurring lycopene. “Lycopene from food sources has also been associated with decreased risk of breast and prostate cancers, and diets high in vegetables and fruits are generally well-accepted for promoting good health,” she said.

Good sources of lycopene include tomatoes and tomato-based products, watermelon, pink grapefruit, guava, and papaya. Dr. Bock suggests consulting a doctor before taking a lycopene supplement.

Dr. Bock is the corresponding author for the Cancer article.

The Women's Health Initiative program is funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.