Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have been reported to enhance the efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents that produce reactive oxygen species such as anthracyclines. We previously reported in a human breast cancer cell line that the increased cytotoxic activity of anthracyclines by several PUFAs was abolished by antioxidants and enhanced by pro-oxidants, suggesting that lipid peroxidation was involved in this effect. To determine the relevance of this observation in vivo, we examined the effect of the oxidative status of the diet on the activity of epirubicin against N-methylnitrosourea-induced mammary tumors in Sprague-Dawley rats. Three groups of rats were fed a basal diet enriched with dietary n-3 PUFA (sardine oil, 15%) alone (control group), with addition of an antioxidant (alpha-tocopherol, 100 UI/kg diet), or with addition of an oxidant system (dehydroascorbate/naphthoquinone). When the first mammary tumor reached 1 cm2, epirubicin was administrated weekly for 3 wk, and subsequent change in tumor size was documented over time. Two weeks after the end of epirubicin injections, tumor size was increased by 34% in the control group. In the pro-oxidant group, tumor size was decreased by 50%. In contrast, tumor size was increased by 188% in the antioxidant group. Thus, addition of pro-oxidants in a fish oil-enriched diet increased the sensitization of mammary tumors to chemotherapy, whereas addition of alpha-tocopherol suppressed tumor response in vivo, indicating that interaction between components of the diet has to be carefully controlled during chemotherapy.