The effects of a synthetic phenolic antioxidant, 1-O-hexyl-2,3,5-trimethylhydroquinone (HTHQ), two novel synthetic ascorbic acid derivatives, 3-O-ethyl ascorbic acid (EAsA) and 3-O-dodecylcarbomethylascorbic acid (DAsA), and phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) on 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA)-induced mammary carcinogenesis were examined in female Sprague-Dawley rats. Groups of 20, 7 week-old rats received an intra-gastric dose (50 mg/kg, b.w.) of DMBA, and starting one week thereafter received powdered diet containing 1.0% HTHQ, 1.0% EAsA, 1.0% DAsA, 0.1% PEITC or a basal diet alone for 35 weeks. Although the final incidences of mammary adenocarcinomas did not significantly differ among the DMBA-treated groups, multiplicities were significantly lowered in the EAsA (1.6+/-1.6 per rat, P < 0.01) and HTHQ (2.6+/-1.9, P < 0.05) animals as compared with the basal diet case (4.1+/-2.9). The average carcinoma volumes were also significantly smaller in rats given EAsA (2.1+/-3.8 cm3, P < 0.05), DAsA (2.5+/-5.3, P < 0.05) or PEITC (2.4+/-5.9, P < 0.05) than in those receiving DMBA alone (4.9+/-9.2). The results indicate that HTHQ, EAsA and PEITC all exert chemopreventive influence on the promotion/progression stage of DMBA-induced rat mammary carcinogenesis, with EAsA being particularly effective. To our knowledge this is the first documented example of an ascorbic acid derivative possessing chemopreventive potential against mammary cancer in vivo.