Some recent epidemiological studies have shown a positive association between cancer incidence and exposure to electromagnetic (EM) fields. Evidence from in vitro studies indicates that this effect could be due to synergistic interaction between EM fields and tumor promoters. However, no dose-response data related directly to carcinogenesis have been published. In this study, actively growing cultures of C3H/10T1/2 cells were exposed for 24 h to 2.45-GHz microwaves pulse-modulated at 120 Hz. Conditions of EM-field exposure were designed to simulate low-field exposures (specific absorption rate 0.1, 1, or 4.4 W/kg; the corresponding peak amplitudes were electric field 18, 56, or 120 V/m, magnetic field 0.09, 0.27, or 0.56 muT, respectively). In separate experiments, a 24-h EM-field exposure at 4.4 W/kg was preceded or followed by X irradiation at 0.5, 1, or 1.5 Gy. Cells were assayed for cell survival and neoplastic transformation with or without post-treatment administration of 0.1 micrograms/ml of 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) for the duration of the assay. The EM fields alone had no effect on cell survival or induction of neoplastic transformation. However, enhancement of transformation due to EM fields plus TPA was highly significant and ranged up to a level equivalent to that produced by 1.5 Gy of X rays. The frequency of neoplastic transformation was dependent on the level of EM exposure and was additive with doses of X rays given as a cocarcinogen.