Evidence is reviewed supporting a hypothesis of an anticarcinogenic effect of magnesium. Animal studies reported increased cancer in rodents maintained on magnesium deficient diets and a preventive effect for rodents fed excess levels of magnesium. Epidemiologic evidence is presented that magnesium levels in water, food, and air are inversely related to cancer mortality. Magnesium may also have a role in the reduced cancer mortality experienced by people living at high altitudes. Two biologically plausible mechanisms are considered by which magnesium could prevent carcinogenesis. Intracellular magnesium may enhance the fidelity of DNA replication or magnesium on the cell membrane may prevent changes which trigger the carcinogenic process.