The genomic content of DNA 5-methyldeoxycytidine (m5dC) was measured in dividing normal human bronchial epithelial cells treated with a broad range of chemical carcinogens. At noncytotoxic concentrations, all of the carcinogenic agents tested significantly reduced cellular DNA m5dC content whereas the weakly carcinogenic and noncarcinogenic agents, benzo[e]pyrene and phenanthrene (respectively), did not. These reductions varied from 8% to 31% depending on the agent and the donor cells. The reductions in genomic m5dC levels were concentration dependent for the carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon benzo[a]pyrene. We speculate that carcinogen-induced perturbation of DNA m5dC patterns may lead to heritable changes in gene expression and contribute to the molecular alterations involved in the initiation and the subsequent steps of the carcinogenesis process.