Aflatoxins have been extensively studied with respect to their mechanisms of toxicity. An understanding of metabolism, DNA adduct induction, mutagenicity and carcinogenicity has been paralleled by the development of biomarkers of aflatoxin exposure and biological effects (e.g. mutations) applied to human populations. The improvements in exposure assessment and their application in prospective epidemiological studies and the demonstration of a specific mutation in the TP53 gene in hepatocellular carcinomas from areas of high aflatoxin exposure have contributed significantly to the classification of aflatoxins as human carcinogens. In addition to establishing the carcinogenicity of aflatoxins in humans, understanding molecular mechanisms of action has provided the scientific rationale for prevention strategies, including primary and chemoprevention approaches. Overall, integrated, multidisciplinary research on aflatoxins has provided the platform on which to base decisions regarding acceptable exposures and priorities for interventions to reduce human risk in a public health context.