Serious systemic infections may occur during cancer chemotherapy due to disturbances in the oropharyngeal and gastrointestinal microflora, impaired mucosal barrier functions and immunosuppression. Bacteria may spread from the gastrointestinal tract to the regional lymph nodes. The routes for bacterial spread from the oral cavity are less well known. In the present study we investigated changes in the oral and intestinal microfloras in rats given 50 mg/kg 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) i.v. for 6 days. Bacterial dissemination to the lymph nodes draining the oral cavity and the lymph nodes draining the gastrointestinal tract was examined. Effects of adding the probiotic strain Lactobacillus plantarum 299v in the drinking water to the rats were measured. 5-FU treatment caused an increase in the number of facultative and strictly anaerobic bacteria in biopsies from the oral cavity and an increase in the number of facultative anaerobes in the large intestine. The proportion of facultative gram-negative rods increased in both the oral cavity and intestine. Bacteria translocated to both the cervical and mesenteric lymph nodes in untreated animals and increased in numbers after 5-FU treatment due to an increase in the number of facultative gram-negative rods. Treatment with L. plantarum 299v improved food intake and body weight in 5-FU-treated rats. It also reduced the 5-FU-induced raise in the total numbers of facultative anaerobes in the intestine, but did not reduce translocation and did not prevent diarrhea. This study reinforces the oral cavity, along with the gastrointestinal tract, as a source for bacterial dissemination. The use of probiotic bacteria may reduce some side effects of 5-FU treatment.