Polyphenolic compounds are widely distributed in the plant kingdom and display a variety of biological activities, including chemoprevention and growth inhibition of tumours. Propolis contains a conglomerate of polyphenolic compounds. We investigated the effect of propolis and polyphenolic compounds, components of propolis, on the growth and metastatic potential of a transplantable mammary carcinoma (MCa) of the mouse. Metastases in the lung were generated by 2 x 10(5) tumour cells injected intravenously (i.v.). A water-soluble derivative of propolis (WSDP) and the polyphenolic compounds (caffeic acid (CA) and caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE)) were given to mice perorally before or after tumour cell inoculation. WSDP, CA and CAPE reduced the number of metastases in the lung. This implies that the antitumour activities of the compounds used in these studies are mostly related to the immunomodulatory properties of the compounds, their cytotoxicity to tumour cells, and their ability to induce apoptosis and/or necrosis.