Free radicals and other reactive species are generated in vivo and many of them can cause oxidative damage to DNA. Although there are methodological uncertainties about accurate quantitation of oxidative DNA damage, the levels of such damage that escape immediate repair and persist in DNA appear to be in the range that could contribute significantly to mutation rates in vivo. The observation that diets rich in fruits and vegetables can decrease both oxidative DNA damage and cancer incidence is consistent with this. By contrast, agents increasing oxidative DNA damage usually increase risk of cancer development. Such agents include cigarette smoke, several other carcinogens, and chronic inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes are accompanied by increased oxidative DNA damage but the pattern of increased cancer risk seems unusual. Other uncertainties are the location of oxidative DNA damage within the genome and the variation in rate and level of oxidative damage between different body tissues. In well-nourished human volunteers, fruits and vegetables have been shown to decrease oxidative DNA damage in several studies, but data from short-term human intervention studies suggest that the protective agents are not vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, or flavonoids.