Reactive oxygen species (ROS) have been implicated as being involved in tumor promotion processes. However, the mechanism by which ROS modulate tumor promotion has not as yet been elucidated. In this report, we show that phorbol ester-type tumor promoters (12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate [TPA], mezerein and 12-O-retinoylphor-bol-13-acetate [RPA]), which vary in their in vivo potencies, also differ in their effect on formation of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and oxidation of normal bases to 5-hydroxymethyl-2'-deoxyuridine [HMdU] and 8-hydroxyl-2'-deoxyguanosine [8-OHdG] in the DNA of SENCAR mouse epidermis, though they are equipotent in causing infiltration of polymorpho-nuclear leukocytes (PMNs). Treatment of SENCAR mice with the chemopreventive agents (-)-epigallocatechin gallate or tamoxifen (6.5 nmol) prior to application of TPA (6.5 nmol) diminished PMN infiltration, and formation of H2O2, HMdU and 8-OHdG. These results strengthen the evidence that ROS are involved in tumor promotion, and that generation of ROS and the subsequent oxidative DNA modification are related to the tumor-promoting potencies of the different phorbol ester-type promoters.