In order to obtain an experimental model we induced mammary tumors in female Sprague-Dawley rats. The carcinogen N-nitroso-N-methylurea (NMU) was injected intraperitoneally (i.p.) at doses of 50 mg/kg body weight when animals were 50, 80 and 110 days old. Tumor sizes were measured with a caliper and their growth parameters and histopathological properties were tested. For 100 rats, 88.4% of developed lesions were ductal carcinomas, histologically classified as 52.8% cribiform variety, 30.6% solid carcinoma. Metastases in liver, spleen and lung were present. Other primary tumors were detected with low incidence. The influence of the rat estrous cycle during the first exposure to intraperitoneal NMU injection was studied. The latency period in estrus, proestrus and diestrus was 82 +/- 15, 77 +/- 18 and 79 +/- 18 days, respectively. Tumor incidence was significantly higher in estrus (95.2%) than proestrus (71.4%) or diestrus (77.4), (P < 0.01). Mean number or tumors per animal was similar among the three groups (4.4 +/- 3.2, 3.8 +/- 3.6, 3.2 +/- 1.8). The procedure described appears to be the simplest method for inducing experimental mammary tumors in rats.