Spaghetti Sauce as Prostate Cancer Therapy
A popular, traditional food could be the newest breakthrough in the treatment of prostate cancer, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.1
In this new study, 30 men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer were instructed to eat a meal containing ¾ cup (200 grams) of tomato sauce every day for three weeks. Immediately after this three-week intervention, each participant had his prostate gland surgically removed. These glands were then compared with surgically removed prostates from a control group of men with prostate cancer who were not eating the daily spaghetti sauce.
Men eating the spaghetti sauce were found to have roughly 25% less DNA damage in their prostate glands than were men in the control group. As DNA damage plays a key role in all stages of the cancer process, this finding suggests that one or more components of the tomato sauce exerted an anti-cancer effect. In support of this possibility was the finding that serum levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which are a reflection of disease activity in prostate cancer patients, dropped (improved) by 20% during the three weeks of the study. These two findings led the authors to conclude that tomato sauce, or one of its constituents, could have a role in the treatment of prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is one of the major health concerns facing aging men. While many men undergo surgery, radiation, or hormonal treatments for this disease, many others elect, with their doctor's supervision, to have no conventional treatment until there is evidence of disease progression. Any intervention that could help stall the progression of prostate cancer would, therefore, be an important advance.
The benefits seen with the tomato sauce are thought to be due to a constituent called lycopene. This compound is a strong antioxidant, and is thought to protect normal cells against the type of DNA damage that may cause many cancers.2 Each test meal contained 30 mg of lycopene, compared with an average lycopene intake of 5 mg per day in the patients who were not eating the meals with tomato sauce.
A question raised by this study, but not specifically addressed by its authors, is whether tomato products containing lycopene would be useful for the prevention of prostate cancer. An earlier study showed that men with high intakes of tomato sauce had a significantly lower prostate cancer incidence than did men with low intakes.3
The use of antioxidants, including lycopene, together with either chemotherapy or radiation therapy is controversial, because there is concern that antioxidants might interfere with the anti-cancer effects of conventional therapy.4 5 6 People undergoing cancer treatment should check with an expert in nutritional medicine before supplementing with lycopene. Despite this controversy, the idea that nutritional intervention could have a therapeutic effect in patients with prostate cancer is no longer radical. Dr. Dean Ornish has begun work on a clinical trial in which people with early stage prostate cancer will undergo nutritional intervention, along with behavioral modification.7 The results of this trial will likely not be available for five to ten years.
While the results of this new study are good news, it is neither time to cool it with radiation nor to cut out surgery as options for prostate cancer treatment. These treatments, along with hormone blockade and chemotherapy, are important for more aggressive prostate cancers. However, for the millions of men with early stage and non-aggressive tumors, nutritional intervention appears to be a reasonable option. Of course, all cancer treatments should be undertaken with the supervision of a physician.
1. Chen L, Stacewicz-Sapuntzakis M, Duncan C, et al. Oxidative DNA damage in prostate cancer patients consuming tomato sauce-based entrees as a whole-food intervention. J Natl Cancer Inst 2001;93:1872–9.
2. Porrini M, Riso P. Lymphocyte lycopene concentration and DNA protection from oxidative damage is increased in women after a short period of tomato consumption. J Nutr 2000;130:189–92.
3. Giovannucci E, Ascherio A, Rimm EB, et al. Intake of carotenoids and retinol in relation to risk of prostate cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 1995;87:1767–76.
4. Prasad KN, Cole WC, Kumar B, Prasad KC. Scientific rationale for using high-dose multiple micronutrients as an adjunct to standard and experimental cancer therapies. J Am Coll Nutr 2001;20(5 Suppl):450S–63S.
5. Lamson DW, Brignall MS. Antioxidants in cancer therapy; their actions and interactions with oncologic therapies. Altern Med Rev 1999;4:304–29.
6. Labriola D, Livingston R. Possible interactions between dietary antioxidants and chemotherapy. Oncology (Huntingt) 1999;13:1003–8.
7. Ornish DM, Lee KL, Fair WR, et al. Dietary trial in prostate cancer: Early experience and implications for clinical trial design. Urology 2001;57:200–1.
Matt Brignall, ND, is in practice at the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center and at the Evergreen Integrative Medicine Clinic in Kirkland, WA. He specializes in integrative treatment of cancer. He is a contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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