Relevant and feasible surrogate end-points are needed for the evaluation of intervention strategies against cancer and other chronic, life-threatening diseases. Carcinogenesis can be viewed as a process of progressive disorganization. This process is characterized by the accumulation of genotypic lesions and corresponding tissue and cellular abnormalities, including loss of proliferation and apoptosis controls. Potential surrogate end-points for cancer incidence include both phenotypic and genotypic biomarkers of this progression. In the US National Cancer Institute chemoprevention programme, histological modulation of a precancer (intraepithelial neoplasia) has so far been the primary phenotypic surrogate end-point in chemoprevention trials. Additionally, high priority has been given to biomarkers measuring specific and general genotypic changes correlated with the carcinogenesis progression model for the targeted cancer (e.g., progressive genomic instability as measured by loss of heterozygosity or amplification at specific microsatellite loci). Other potential surrogate end-points include proliferation and differentiation indices, specific gene and general chromosome damage, cell growth regulatory molecules, and biochemical activities (e.g., enzyme inhibition). Serum biomarkers thought to be associated with cancer progression (e.g., prostate-specific antigen) are particularly appealing surrogate end-points because of accessibility. Potentially chemopreventive effects of the test agent may also be measured (e.g., tissue and serum estrogen levels in studies of steroid aromatase inhibitors). To establish chemopreventive efficacy, prevention of virtually all biomarker lesions, or of those lesions with particular propensity for progression, may be required. Ideally, the phenotype and genotype of any new or remaining precancers in the target tissue of chemopreventive agent-treated subjects would show less, and certainly no greater, potential for progression than those of placebo-treated subjects.