Thyroid tumors are a frequent finding not only in iodine-deficient regions. They are predominantly characterized by somatic genetic changes (e.g. point mutations or rearrangements). Because slow thyroid proliferation is a apparent contradiction to a high frequency of tumor initiation, we characterized mutational events in thyroid. First we studied the frequency of certain base exchanges in somatic TSH receptor (TSHR) mutations and determined the spontaneous mutation rate in thyroid and liver. Then we applied different protocols of the comet assay to quantify genomic DNA damage and conducted immunohistochemistry for 8-oxoguanine as a molecular marker for oxidative stress. Among 184 somatic mutations of the human TSHR found in thyroid tumors, C-->T transitions had a unexpectedly high frequency (>32%). The mutation rate in thyroid is 8-10 times higher than in other organs. The comet assay detected increased levels of oxidized pyrimidine (2- to 3-fold) and purine (2- to 4-fold) in thyroid, compared with liver and lung, and a 1.6-fold increase of oxidized purine, compared with spleen. Immunohistochemistry revealed high levels of 8-oxoguanine in thyroid epithelial cells. We have shown a strikingly high mutation rate in the thyroid. Furthermore, results of the comet assay as well as immunohistochemistry suggest that oxidative DNA modifications are a likely cause of the higher mutation rate. It is possible that free radicals resulting from reactive oxygen species in the thyroid generate mutations more frequently. This is also supported by the spectrum of somatic mutations in the TSHR because more frequent base changes could stem from oxidized base adducts that we detected in the comet assay and with immunohistochemistry.