Polyphenols are a very broad group of chemicals, widely distributed in plant foods, and endowed with antioxidant activity by virtue of their numerous phenol groups. They are widely studied as putative cancer-protective agents, potentially contributing to the cancer preventive properties of fruits and vegetables. We review recent publications relating to human trials, animal experiments and cell culture, grouping them according to whether polyphenols are investigated in whole foods and drinks, in plant extracts, or as individual compounds. A variety of assays are in use to study genetic damage endpoints. Human trials, of which there are rather few, tend to show decreases in endogenous DNA damage and protection against DNA damage induced ex vivo in blood cells. Most animal experiments have investigated the effects of polyphenols (often at high doses) in combination with known DNA-damaging agents, and generally they show protection. High concentrations can themselves induce DNA damage, as demonstrated in numerous cell culture experiments; low concentrations, on the other hand, tend to decrease DNA damage.