- Evidence from epidemiologic studies has suggested that carotenoids, and lycopene in particular, decrease the risk of cancer: however, not all studies support this view. To gain insight into the molecular mechanisms whereby lycopene and other carotenoids may exert their chemoprotective effects, we and others performed a series of studies that used a large panel of cancer cell lines of different lineages and animal models of human cancer. In this review we address some of the mechanisms proposed for the cancer-preventive activity of tomato lycopene, focusing on the induction of the antioxidant response element transcription system and the inhibition of the transcriptional activity of sex hormones, such as estrogens and androgens, and the activity of growth factors, such as insulin-like growth factor. We also considered the modulation by lycopene of the transcription factors peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor, retinoid X receptor, liver X receptor, and activating protein-1. The ligands and the phytonutrient regulators of these transcription systems contain electrophilic active groups, whereas lycopene and nonxanthophylic carotenoids are devoid of them. Thus, we suggest that at least some of the cellular effects of carotenoids are mediated through their derivatives formed either by chemical oxidation or by enzymatic cleavage inside the cells. This review highlights findings that pertain to this exciting avenue of research, which is currently under intense scrutiny in several laboratories worldwide.