Dietary chemoprevention has emerged as a cost effective approach to control most prevalent chronic diseases including cancer. In particular, tomato and tomato products are recognised to confer a wide range of health benefits. Epidemiological studies have provided evidence that high consumption of tomatoes effectively lowers the risk of reactive oxygen species (ROS)-mediated diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer by improving the antioxidant capacity. Tomatoes are rich sources of lycopene, an antioxidant carotenoid reported to be a more stable and potent singlet oxygen quenching agent compared to other carotenoids. In addition to its antioxidant properties, lycopene shows an array of biological effects including cardioprotective, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic activities. The anticancer activity of lycopene has been demonstrated both in in vitro and in vivo tumour models. The mechanisms underlying the inhibitory effects of lycopene on carcinogenesis could involve ROS scavenging, upregulation of detoxification systems, interference with cell proliferation, induction of gap-junctional communication, inhibition of cell cycle progression and modulation of signal transduction pathways. This review outlines the sources, structure, absorption, metabolism, bioavailability and pharmacological properties of lycopene with special reference to its antioxidant and anticarcinogenic effects.