To investigate whether the oxidative status of an 18:3(n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA)-enriched diet could modulate the growth of chemically induced rat mammary tumors, three independent experiments were performed. Experiments I and II examined the variation of tumor growth by addition of antioxidant (vitamin E) or a prooxidant system (sodium ascorbate/2-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone) to a 15% linseed oil diet rich in 18:3(n-3). Experiment III addressed the role of PUFA in the tumor growth modulation by vitamin E. For this purpose, we compared the effect of vitamin E in 15% fat diets containing a high level of 18:3(n-3) (linseed oil, high-PUFA diet) or devoid of 18:3(n-3) (hydrogenated palm/sunflower oil, low-PUFA diet). In Experiments I-III, tumor growth increased in the presence of vitamin E compared with control (without vitamin E). Furthermore, it decreased when prooxidant was added. In contrast, no difference was observed when the diet was low in PUFA, suggesting that sensitivity of PUFA to peroxidation may interfere with tumor growth. This observation was supported by growth kinetic parameter analysis, which indicated that tumor growth resulted from variations in cell loss but not from changes in cell proliferation. These data show that, in vivo, PUFA effects on tumor growth are highly dependent on diet oxidative status.