Administration of hepatocarcinogens aflatoxin B1 and N-nitrosodimethylamine to rats caused single-strand breaks in nuclear DNA. Inclusion in the diet of rutin, a naturally occurring phenolic flavonoid glycoside, significantly reduced the appearance of such breaks. The protection against DNA damage was found to be reduction in the induction of repair enzymes polymerase, DNA polymerase beta and DNA ligase. Even associated with poly(ADP-ribose) a marginal dose of rutin was effective in this regard. Since DNA damage and inefficient repair are expected to initiate the process of carcinogenesis, modulation by rutin of these parameters emphasizes the protective role of this flavonoid against carcinogenesis induced by chemical carcinogens.