The ability of the epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitor gefitinib (Iressa) to prevent/treat methylnitrosourea (MNU)-induced mammary cancers and to modulate biomarkers in female Sprague-Dawley rats was examined. Rats were given a single dose of MNU (75 mg/kg body weight) at 50 days of age. In the prevention studies, continual treatment with Iressa at 10, 3, or 1 mg/kg body weight per day beginning 5 days after MNU reduced tumor multiplicity by 93%, 43%, and 20%, respectively. Treatment of rats bearing small palpable cancers with Iressa (10 mg/kg body weight per day) resulted in the complete regression of 70% of the tumors. Short-term treatment of tumor-bearing rats with Iressa caused decreases in cell proliferation and phosphorylated epidermal growth factor receptor and increases in apoptosis. To examine treatment regimens that might decrease the skin toxicity associated with Iressa, both intermittent treatments and combinations of lower doses of Iressa with other effective agents were evaluated. Treatment with Iressa (10 mg/kg body weight per day) continually or intermittently (either "3 weeks on/3 weeks off" or "4 days on/3 days off") reduced cancer multiplicity by 91%, 24%, and 68%, respectively. However, all regimens reduced tumor weights >85%. Finally, combining suboptimal doses of Iressa with suboptimal doses of vorozole (an aromatase inhibitor) or targretin (a retinoid X receptor agonist) yielded greater chemopreventive efficacy than any of these agents given alone.