Terminal replicative senescence (TRS) is a physiological process associated with terminal differentiation, shortening of the telomere, and lack of proliferative activity. Immortalised and tumour cells have lost their differentiation potential and the ability to develop a senescence phenotype. Recently, others and we  have observed that some antitumour agents and radiation induce a senescence-like phenotype (SLP) in human immortalized and tumour cell lines. The main purpose of this study was to identify senescence-like cells (SLC) in mammary tumours of rats and assess whether chemopreventive agents that have been used for the prevention and/or treatment of breast cancer can induce a SLP in tumour cells. Sprague-Dawley rats with N-methyl-N-nitrosourea (MNU)-induced mammary tumours were randomised and treated with tamoxifen, vorozole, 4-(hydroxyphenyl)retinamide (4-HPR), or 9-cis-retinoic acid (9cRA). The SLC in mammary tumours were identified and characterised by: (a) SA-beta-Gal staining method, which has been considered specific for human cells in TRS (b) staining for lipofuscin, which, although not specific, accumulates in the cytoplasm of cells in senescence; (c) lack of 5-Bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) labelling after continuous (7 days) infusion of BrdU via osmotic pumps; (d) 90 degrees side light scatter (9OLS) as evaluated by flow cytometry; and (e) decreased telomerase activity. We found that in control tumours, SA-beta-Gal-positive cells were rare (below 1.0%) among the tumour cells, stroma fibroblast, myoepithelial and endothelial cells. SA-beta-Gal-positive cells increased significantly in the tumours treated with chemopreventive agents and this was associated with a lack of proliferative activity, increased cell granularity, lipofuscin accumulation, and decreased telomerase activity. Thus, in this study we provide for the first time evidence that cells in replicative senescence are present in mammary tumours of rats and that chemopreventive agents can suppress tumor growth by a novel cellular mechanism, inducing a SLP in the tumor cells.