Many dietary constituents are chemopreventive in animal models, and experiments with cultured cells are revealing various potential mechanisms of action. Compounds classified as blocking agents can prevent, or greatly reduce, initiation of carcinogenesis, or suppressing agents can act on cell proliferation. Caffeic acid (CA) and caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), members of the polyphenolic compounds, are present in high concentrations in medicinal plants and propolis, a natural beehive product. A water-soluble extract of propolis (WSDP) and two components of propolis, CA and CAPE were investigated for direct antitumor activity in vivo and in vitro. The local presence of CA and CAPE in the tissue caused a significant delay in tumor formation and increased life span 29.30 to 51.73%, respectively. CA and CAPE, but not WSDP, significantly suppressed human HeLa cervical carcinoma cell proliferation in vitro. Based on these results, we postulate that the antitumor activity of polyphenolic compounds includes direct cytotoxic effects on tumor cells.