An investigation was conducted to assess the chemopreventive potential of lycopene (LP), a naturally occurring hydrocarbon carotenoid found in tomatoes and their products, administered during the post-initiation stage in a multiorgan carcinogenesis model. One hundred eighteen B6C3F1 mice of both sexes were subjected to combined treatment with diethylnitrosamine (DEN), N-methyl-N-nitrosourea (MNU) and 1,2-dimethylhydrazine (DMH) from day 11 after birth to week 9 (DMD treatment) (groups 1 and 2) or their vehicles (group 3). Then group 1 received LP (25 or 50 ppm in drinking water) for 21 weeks from weeks 11 to 32. Group 2 served as a carcinogen alone control and group 3 was given only LP (25 or 50 ppm). All surviving animals were sacrificed at week 32 and the major organs, including the liver, lung, kidney and colon, were histologically examined. The incidences and multiplicities of lung adenomas plus carcinomas combined in male mice in group 1 receiving 50 ppm LP were significantly decreased as compared to the DMD alone or DMD and 25 ppm LP groups (75.0 versus 18.8%, P < 0.02; 0.94 +/- 0.17 versus 0.25 +/- 0.14, P < 0.001). No such effect was observed for females. Although hepatocellular carcinomas were lacking in the DMD and LP groups while two cases were found in the DMD alone group, this difference was not statistically significant. The values for aberrant crypt foci (ACF) and tumors in the colon and kidney did not show any significant variation among the carcinogen-treated subgroups. The results suggest that LP exerts a chemopreventive effect limited to male lung carcinogenesis when given in the post-initiation stage to B6C3F1 mice.