We studied the effects of short-term dietary restriction on the survival of 3-4-month-old tumor-free and tumor-bearing Fisher rats. The diet-restricted food regimen consisted of alternate day ad libitum feeding followed by alternate day fasting. Diet-unrestricted control rats were fed ad libitum daily. Six tumor-free rats on the diet-restricted regimen compensated for the dietary restriction by an increase in food consumption during the alternate feeding days, and lost an average of only 2-3% of their weight in 13 days. Six tumor-free rats on a daily ad libitum feeding regimen gained an average of 6.8% in 15 days. The above dietary-restricted regimen was initiated 1 week before 24 rats were inoculated intraperitoneally with 15 million Mat 13762 ascites tumor cells. Sixteen of 24 (66.7%) diet-restricted tumor-bearing hosts and 5/24 (20.8%) diet-unrestricted tumor-bearing hosts survived at 9 days after tumor inoculation (p less than 0.005). Twelve of 24 (50%) diet-restricted tumor-bearing hosts, and 3 of 24 (12.5%) diet-unrestricted tumor-bearing hosts, survived at 10 days after tumor inoculation (p less than 0.025). Thus, the survival of tumor-bearing rats was enhanced by short-term relatively mild dietary restrictions. We suggest that relatively mild dietary restrictions should be included in clinical trials designed to inhibit cancer growth and enhance the survival of human cancer patients.