Somatostatin analogue RC-160 and bombesin/gastrin-releasing peptide antagonist RC-3095 were infused at 2 micrograms per day via miniosmotic pumps implanted s.c. in hamsters with premalignant disease to examine the effect of these peptides on cancer promotion and progression. These analogues have been shown to inhibit growth of certain tumors, especially those that overexpress tyrosine kinase activity. Progression of premalignant lesions initiated by applying 0.5% 9,10-dimethyl-1,2-benzanthracene (DMBA) to the hamster buccal cheek pouch was measured by Photofrin-induced fluorescence 24 hr after injecting the porphyrin (1.0 mg/kg) by using in vivo fluorescence photometry. This method of monitoring progression was reaffirmed by the observations that fluorescence increased significantly as compared with controls in lesions receiving 4 additional weeks of continuous promotion by DMBA application (P < 0.01 in two independent trials) and in lesions receiving transient promotion by laser incision (P < 0.01 and < 0.05 at the same time in the two trials). Twelve weeks after treatment, fluorescence had decreased significantly among animals treated for 2 weeks with RC-3095 (control, 0.53 +/- 0.03 V vs. RC-3095, 0.28 +/- 0.03 V; P < 0.0005) or with RC-160 (control, 0.85 +/- 0.03 V vs. RC-160, 0.24 +/- 0.03 V; P < 0.0001). These data were obtained 20 weeks after DMBA initiation. Thus, treatment with RC-160 and RC-3095 decreased the progression, measured by fluorescence, compared with control animals. In addition, there was also an absolute continuous decrease in fluorescence for the 22 weeks after the cessation of RC-160 treatment. That the changes in tumor progression produced by RC-160 extended beyond the treatment period supports the hypothesis that the changes were irreversible. Histopathological analysis revealed normal tissue and/or mild-moderate dysplasia in hamster buccal mucosa treated with the RC-160 (an improvement compared to pretreatment), whereas 40% of the animals receiving no treatment after DMBA initiation developed invasive squamous cell carcinomas after 20 weeks. These results show that the antagonists of bombesin/gastrin-releasing peptide can delay the development of malignancies and the agonists of somatostatin can potentially reverse this development.