Tumors are known to produce factors suppressing immune functions. We previously showed that a murine renal cell carcinoma (Renca) suppressed macrophage function in vitro and that this suppression was abolished by co-incubation with extracts of two Chinese medicinal herbs. We now report that these phytochemicals are capable of inhibiting growth of Renca in vivo. BALB/c mice were transplanted intraperitoneally (IP) with 1-2 x 10(5) Renca cells. One day after tumor transplant, mice were randomized into two groups. One group was treated IP, daily for 10 days, with 100 microliters of phytochemicals containing 500 micrograms each of Astragalus membranaceus and Ligustrum lucidum, while the other group received saline as controls. A cure rate of 57% was obtained with these phytochemicals when the initial tumor load was 2 x 10(5), and 100% when the initial tumor load was 1 x 10(5). Additional experiments were performed to investigate the mechanisms involved in this protection. Splenic macrophages from tumor-bearing mice were shown to have depressed chemiluminescent oxidative burst activity, and this depression was restored with phytochemical treatment. Splenocytes from mice transplanted with Renca responded less favorably to interleukin-2 (IL-2) in generating lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells; again this depression was restored with phytochemical treatment. Our data suggest that these phytochemicals may have exerted their antitumor effects via augmentation of phagocyte and LAK cell activities.