Jewish World Review March 8, 2002 / 24 Adar, 5762

Tomatoes and your prostate

By Robert A. Wascher, M.D., F.A.C.S. -- There have been previous studies suggesting that a diet rich in tomato-based foods can reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Lycopene, a close cousin of Vitamin A, has been implicated as the chemical in tomatoes responsible for this potentially protective effect. Although present in uncooked tomatoes, your body can more efficiently utilize lycopene after tomatoes have been cooked. The current issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute features a study that appears to further link lycopene intake with a reduction in prostate cancer risk.

More than 47,000 study volunteers were evaluated between 1986 and 1998. These volunteers completed detailed dietary questionnaires in 1986, 1990 and 1994. The researchers then compared the questionnaire responses of those volunteers who developed prostate cancer with those who did not. They found that a tomato-rich diet reduced the incidence of prostate cancer by about 16%.

Among those patients who frequently ate foods that included tomato sauce, the reduction in the risk of developing prostate cancer was even higher (23%). One must remember, of course, that these "risk reduction" statistics will translate into a relatively small number of cases of cancer actually prevented overall.

Among American men of all ages and races, 14 out of every 10,000 men will eventually develop prostate cancer. Among men older than 65, approximately 100 out of every 10,000 will develop the disease. Thus, a 16 to 23 percent risk reduction would reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer among men of all ages and races to 11 to 12 cases per 10,000 men, while a similar reduction in risk among men older than 65 would net an incidence of 77 to 84 cases per 10,000 men.

However, as there are no known adverse effects from eating cooked tomato products (except, perhaps, for all of the calories that one consumes if combined with lots of pasta...), having your risk of developing prostate cancer reduced by as much as one-fourth is still a significant accomplishment.


Here in Los Angeles, some people jokingly claim not to trust any air that can't be seen with the naked eye. Most of us know, however, that chronic exposure to polluted air causes a range of respiratory ailments and other health problems, including an increased risk of emphysema and heart disease. Now there is compelling evidence that breathing bad air may also increase your risk of developing lung cancer, even if you don't smoke.

In this week's Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), an ongoing American Cancer Society study of almost 1.2 million adults provides some concerning perspective on this subject. The study was initiated in 1982, and has continuously followed its volunteers' health outcomes over the years. From this large group of volunteers, the authors of the JAMA study were able to evaluate a smaller group of approximately 500,000 volunteers between 1982 and 1998. All volunteers lived in metropolitan areas that tabulated air pollution data on a regular basis.

After correcting for known lung cancer risk factors (primarily exposure to cigarette smoke and certain occupational hazards) and cardiopulmonary disease risk factors, the authors then correlated the incidence of lung cancer and cardiopulmonary disease with air quality factors.

They found that fine particulate and sulfur oxide pollutants were associated with a significantly increased risk of dying from heart disease, non-cancer lung disease, and lung cancer (these air pollutants are largely the byproducts of combustion, and their sources primarily include automobiles, as well as power plants and factories that burn fossil fuels and other combustible fuels).

Increasing levels of these pollutants in the air further increased the risk of dying from any of these conditions. During the study period, the study participants living in American cities with the worst pollution experienced a 12% increase in the risk of dying from lung cancer as compared to people living in areas with the cleanest air.

To put this into perspective, this is comparable to the 15 to 25 percent increased risk of dying of lung cancer that non-smokers experience with chronic exposure to a smoking spouse's secondhand smoke. Although not evaluated in this study, smokers who live in areas with significant air pollution are thought to incur an especially high risk of dying from heart and lung diseases, including lung cancer.


Also in JAMA this week is a study of sudden cardiac death (SCD) due to blows to the chest. SCD usually results from the development of abnormal heart rhythms that essentially cause the heart to stop pumping blood (most commonly ventricular fibrillation). SCD can occur due to chronic heart disease or underlying abnormal heart function, but it can also occasionally be caused by blunt trauma to the chest. Such trauma need not be particularly severe, and can occur during common sports activities when an object or person strikes another person's chest.

A total of 128 cases of SCD caused by blunt chest trauma were reviewed and analyzed in this study. Males accounted for 95% of the cases, and the average age of the victims was about 14 years. SCD occurred during organized sports events in 62% of cases, and 28% of the victims were wearing commercially available chest protection devices. Only 16% of SCD victims survived. The only significant factor that seemed to favorably influence survival was prompt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and electrical conversion of the abnormal heart rhythm into a normal rhythm with electric shocks (defibrillation).

Although SCD caused by a blow to the chest is a rare occurrence, it is usually fatal. This study should spur additional research into improving protective devices for people involved in sports that are associated with a risk of forceful contact with the chest area. In view of the predominantly young age of SCD victims, the need for more effective chest protection devices for school-aged sports participants is especially compelling.

JWR contributor Dr. Robert A. Wascher is a senior research fellow in molecular & surgical oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002, Dr. Robert A. Wascher