Eating pizza regularly could reduce the risk of developing cancer, according to new research.

Researchers in Italy studied the eating habits of 3,300 people who had developed cancer of the mouth, oesophagus, throat or colon, and 5,000 people who had not developed cancer, reported BBC News Online.

They found that for those who ate pizza regularly the risk of developing oesophageal cancer was reduced by 59%, while the risk of developing cancer of the colon was reduced by 26%. The risk of developing cancer of the mouth fell by 34%.

While some experts attribute the findings to the high level of lycopene, an antioxidant thought to help protect against cancer, in tomatoes, others argue that other foods or dietary habits may have been responsible.

"We knew that tomato sauce could offer protection against certain tumours, but we did not expect pizza as a complete meal also to offer such protective powers," research leader Dr Silvano Gallus, of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmaceutical Research in Milan, was quoted by the BBC as saying.

Nicola O'Connor, of Cancer Research UK, told BBC News Online: "This study is interesting and the results should probably be looked at in the context of what we already know about the Mediterranean diet and it's association with a lower risk of certain types of cancer.

"But before people start dialling the pizza takeaway, they should consider that pizza can be high in saturated fat, salt and calories.

"In contrast to the classic Italian pizza, UK varieties are often loaded with high fat cheeses and fatty meats, a high intake of which can contribute to obesity, itself a risk factor for cancer.

"Our advice is to enjoy pizza in moderation as part of a balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fruit."