The tumor microenvironment is characterized by regions of fluctuating hypoxia, low pH, and nutrient deprivation. To determine the genetic consequences of growth under these conditions, we used a tumorigenic cell line carrying a recoverable, chromosomally based lambda phage shuttle vector designed to report mutations without the need for genetic selection of mutant cells. The cells were grown in parallel either in culture or as tumors in nude mice. The frequency of mutations arising in cells within the tumors was found to be 5-fold higher than that in otherwise identical cells grown in culture. A distinct pattern of mutation was also seen, with significantly more deletions and transversions in the tumors than in the cell cultures. Furthermore, exposure of the cultured cells to hypoxia produced an elevated mutation frequency and a mutation pattern similar to that seen in the tumors. These results indicate that the conditions within solid tumors are mutagenic and suggest that a fundamental mechanism of tumor progression in vivo is genetic instability induced by the tumor microenvironment.