Lycopene is a carotenoid that is present in tomatoes, processed tomato products and other fruits. It is one of the most potent antioxidants among dietary carotenoids. Dietary intake of tomatoes and tomato products containing lycopene has been shown to be associated with a decreased risk of chronic diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Serum and tissue lycopene levels have been found to be inversely related to the incidence of several types of cancer, including breast cancer and prostate cancer. Although the antioxidant properties of lycopene are thought to be primarily responsible for its beneficial effects, evidence is accumulating to suggest that other mechanisms may also be involved. In this article we outline the possible mechanisms of action of lycopene and review the current understanding of its role in human health and disease prevention.