Iron overload is known to occur in West European and American populations due to the consumption of an iron-rich diet. There are also genetic disorders which lead to body iron overload. It has been shown that iron overload predisposes humans to an increased risk of cancer. In experimental animals, iron overload is known to enhance intestinal, colon, hepatic, pulmonary and mammary carcinogenesis. However, the mechanism by which iron overload enhances chemically-induced carcinogenesis is not known. In this study, we show that iron overload acts as a mild tumor promoter in mouse skin. Female albino swiss mice were given 1 mg iron/mouse parenterally for 2 weeks to induce iron overload. These animals showed a three-fold increase in cutaneous iron concentration as compared to normal mice. Tumors were initiated by topically applying 7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene (DMBA). Appearance of the first tumor (latency period), percent tumor incidence and number of tumors/mouse were recorded. When compared to the control group, iron overload mice showed an increased incidence of tumors, from 25%-55% by week 20, and tumors appeared 4 weeks earlier. The number of tumors per mouse was four-fold higher in the iron overload group. The induction of cutaneous ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) activity and [3H]thymidine incorporation in cutaneous DNA were higher in iron overload groups as compared to normal control animals. Similar to other oxidant tumor promoters, iron overload enhanced cutaneous lipid peroxidation and xanthine oxidase activity and decreased catalase activity. Our results indicate that iron overload exerts a mild tumor promoting activity in mouse skin. Our data also show that oxidative stress generated by iron overload plays an important role in the augmentation of cutaneous tumorigenesis. These data may also have implications for the enhanced risk of cancer-induction following UVB exposure of human populations with iron overload.