We have evaluated the ability of steady-state, radially-resolved, broad-band near infrared diffuse reflectance spectroscopy to measure carbogen-induced changes in haemoglobin oxygen saturation (SO2) and total haemoglobin concentration in a rat R3230 mammary adenocarcinoma model in vivo. Detectable shifts toward higher saturations were evident in all tumours (n = 16) immediately after the onset of carbogen breathing. The SO2 reached a new equilibrium within 1 min and remained approximately constant during 200-300 s of administration. The return to baseline saturation was more gradual when carbogen delivery was stopped. The degree to which carbogen increased SO2 was variable among tumours, with a tendency for tumours with lower initial SO2 to exhibit larger changes. Tumour haemoglobin concentrations at the time of peak enhancement were also variable. In the majority of cases, haemoglobin concentration decreased in response to carbogen, indicating that increased tumour blood volume was not responsible for the observed elevation in SO2. We observed no apparent relationship between the extent of the change in tumour haemoglobin concentration and the magnitude of the change in the saturation. Near infrared diffuse reflectance spectroscopy provides a rapid, non-invasive means of monitoring spatially averaged changes in tumour haemoglobin oxygen saturation induced by oxygen modifiers.