The effects of fat concentration and saturation on the growth of a B16 melanoma and lymphocyte-mediated cytotoxicity against the cells were studied with the use of inbred C57BL/6J and C3H/HeJ mice subjected to dietary manipulation before and after tumor transplantation. The tumor latency for mice initially given injections of 5 X 10(6) syngeneic B16 melanoma cells was significantly less for those mice fed at 20% fat concentration than those fed only the essential fatty acid (EFA) diet. When mice were given injections of 10(6) melanoma cells, the initiation time required for visible tumor growth in mice receiving the polyunsaturated fat (PUF) diet was significantly less than that in mice receiving the saturated fat (SF) diet. Cytolysis mediated by lymphocytes from diet-manipulated mice toward allogeneic B16 melanoma cells was greater for those mice receiving the EFA diet only and 8% SF diets than for those mice fed a diet without fat. The cytolytic response decreased immediately with the additional PUF in the diet, whereas additional SF decreased cytolytic responses only when dietary SF concentration was greater than 8%. Thus dietary fat, particularly PUF, has a significant influence on the growth and lymphocyte-mediated cytotoxicity of a murine melanoma. This effect cannot be attributed to differences in the energy content between high-fat and low-fat diets.