Lycopene, a carotenoid without provitamin-A activity, is present in many fruits and vegetables; however, tomatoes and processed tomato products constitute the major source of lycopene in North American diet. Among the carotenoids, lycopene is a major component found in the serum and other tissues. Dietary intakes of tomatoes and tomato products containing lycopene have been shown to be associated with decreased risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases in several recent studies. Serum and tissue lycopene levels have also been inversely related with the chronic disease risk. Although the antioxidant properties of lycopene are thought to be primarily responsible for its beneficial properties, evidence is accumulating to suggest other mechanisms such as modulation of intercellular gap junction communication, hormonal and immune system and metabolic pathways may also be involved. This review summarizes the background information about lycopene and presents the most current knowledge with respect to its role in human health and disease.