Why tomatoes might be a key to preventing skin cancer

The more obvious solution to preventing skin cancer is to protect yourself with sunblock when you're out catching some rays. But a new study in mice suggests more attention to one part of your diet – namely tomatoes – could play a key role.

Male mice that ate tomatoes daily – a diet of 10 percent tomato powder over 35 weeks, to be specific – saw their risk for skin cancer tumors decrease by 50 percent on average as opposed to mice not given dehydrated tomatoes. The study was published this week in Scientific Reports.

Why the connection? Tomatoes contain carotenoids, primarily one antioxidant called lycopene, which are responsible for tomatoes' color. But the theory is that the compounds could also save skin from UV light damage, according to study author Jessica Cooperstone, also a research scientist with Ohio State University.

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Mice fed with tangerine tomatoes (which had less total lycopene) rather than a red tomato diet didn't see a statistically significant difference than the control group.

Female mice didn't see any significant differences in the number of their tumors. The study proves researchers need to look into sex when it comes to developing preventive strategies, one of the study authors, Tatiana Oberyszyn, said in a statement. She's also a professor of pathology and member of Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Earlier research in humans also indicates consuming tomato paste can weaken sunburns, according to Cooperstone.

Research on diet and skin cancer is far from new, with antioxidants front and center.

"After years of debate about whether antioxidants could indeed spell the difference between someone developing or not developing skin cancer, recent research has tipped the scales in their favor," according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. "More dermatologists than ever now advise patients to feast on foods high in these nutrients. Many also suggest applying topical products containing them, including sunscreens."

In the U.S., skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer. It's diagnosed in about 10,000 people every day.

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