Most of the biological, chemical or physical agents that cause cell death in certain doses and time of exposure may induce either apoptosis or necrosis. This study explores in what ways the genotoxic, cytotoxic and apoptotic effects of diethylstilbestrol (DES), a chemical agent currently used in the treatment of various types of cancer, on the human lymphocytes depend upon the dose and the exposure time. For this purpose, firstly it aims to determine in what dosages and durations of DES treatment, genotoxicity and cytotoxicity in human lymphocytes occur in vitro. Secondly, it explores the effects of DES on sister-chromatid exchanges (SCEs) and apoptosis and their relation with the nitric oxide (NO) levels. Finally, it investigates whether different dosages of DES and duration of treatment with it are correlated with each other. In so doing, we investigated the relationship among the viability, necrosis and apoptosis rates of human lymphocytes which were treated with five different DES concentrations (1, 5, 10, 15 and 20 μM) for 24, 48 and 72 h, DNA fragmentation analysis of these cells, their mean SCE values and NO levels. We concluded that 5 μM DES at 24 h is the most effective dosage that induces typical features of apoptosis in human lymphocytes. Despite the fact that there are many other studies on the effects of DES on the cancer cells, we thought it might be worth looking into the effects of DES on human lymphocytes in vitro. We meant the present study to contribute to the research done in the field of cancer treatment. © Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005.