The first p53 gene mutation arising in a human tumor was described a decade ago by Baker et al. [S.J. Baker, E.R. Fearon, J.M. Nigro, S.R. Hamilton, A.C. Preisinger, J.M. Jessup, P. van Tuinen, D.H. Ledbetter, D.F. Barker, Y. Nakamura, R. White, B. Vogelstein, Chromosome 17 deletions and p53 gene mutations in colorectal carcinomas, Science 244 (1989) 217-221]. There are now over 10,000 mutations extracted from the published literature in the IARC database of human p53 tumor mutations [P. Hainaut, T. Hernandez, A. Robinson, P. Rodriguez-Tome, T. Flores, M. Hollstein, C.C. Harris, R. Montesano, IARC database of p53 gene mutations in human tumors and cell lines: updated compilation, revised formats and new visualization tools, Nucleic Acids Res. 26 (1998) 205-213; Version R3, January 1999]. A large and diverse collection of tumor mutations in cancer patients provides important information on the nature of environmental factors or biological processes that are important causes of human gene mutation, since xenobiotic mutagens as well as endogenous mechanisms of genetic change produce characteristic types of patterns in target DNA [J.H. Miller, Mutational specificity in bacteria, Annu. Rev. Genet. 17 (1983) 215-238; T. Lindahl, Instability and decay of the primary structure of DNA, Nature 362 (1993) 709-715; S.P. Hussain, C.C. Harris, Molecular epidemiology of human cancer: contribution of mutation spectra studies of tumor suppressor genes, Cancer Res. 58 (1998) 4023-4037; P. Hainaut, M. Hollstein, p53 and human cancer: the first ten thousand mutations, Adv. Cancer Res. 2000]. P53 gene mutations in cancers can be compared to point mutation spectra at the HPRT locus of human lymphocytes from patients or healthy individuals with known exposure histories, and accumulated data indicate that mutation patterns at the two loci share certain general features. Hypotheses regarding specific cancer risk factors can be tested by comparing p53 tumor mutations typical of a defined patient group against mutations generated experimentally in rodents or in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells in vitro. Refinements of this approach to hypothesis testing are being explored that employ human p53 sequences introduced artificially into experimental organisms used in laboratory mutagenesis assays. P53-specific laboratory models, combined with DNA microchips designed for high through-put mutation screening promise to unmask information currently hidden in the compilation of human tumor p53 mutations.