Iron overload has been shown to enhance chemically mediated cutaneous tumor promotion in animals. However, the majority of these animal studies have used high concentrations of iron before initiating tumor development. The current study was designed to evaluate the effect of small doses of iron on the promotion stage of chemically mediated cutaneous carcinogenesis. We found an increased tumor response in mice initiated with dimethylbenz(a)anthracene (DMBA) when iron at the dose levels of 0.5, 1.0, and 1.5mg/mouse was injected (intramuscularly) once a week into mice at the promotion stage of skin carcinogenesis, employing 12-O-tetradecanoyl phorbol-13-acetate (TPA)/benzoyl peroxide (BPO) as tumor promoter. The appearance of first papilloma and the number of tumors/mouse were recorded weekly. When compared to the control (non-iron-treated) group, the iron-treated groups showed an augmented incidence of tumors and number of tumors/mouse. In iron-treated mice, tumors appeared earlier than in the control group. TPA/BPO treatment resulted in a significant decrease in the activities of antioxidant enzymes and depletion in the level of epidermal reduced glutathione (GSH). TPA treatment in non-iron-treated mice resulted in ∼20-40% decrease in GSH level and in the activities of antioxidant enzymes, whereas 1.5-mg iron treatment along with TPA treatment resulted in about ∼30-70% decrease in GSH level and in the activities of antioxidant enzymes. Similarly, treatment of iron along with BPO treatment resulted in a dose-dependent higher depletion of GSH and the antioxidant enzymes as compared to non-iron-treated animals treated with BPO. Further, TPA/BPO-mediated induction in ornithine decarboxylase activity and [3H]thymidine incorporation in cutaneous DNA was approx two- to threefold higher in mice treated with iron as compared to non-iron-treated mice. Cutaneous lipid peroxidation and iron levels were also higher in mice treated with iron as compared to non-iron-treated mice. These data suggest that progressive iron overload can enhance the tumor promotion ability of TPA/BPO in DMBA-initiated murine skin. © 2002 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.