The effect of propolis [it is a water-soluble derivative (WSDP)] and related polyphenolic compounds of propolis (caffeic acid, caffeic acid phenethyl ester and quercetin), honey, royal jelly and bee venom on tumour growth, metastasizing ability and induction of apoptosis and necrosis in murine tumour models (mammary carcinoma and colon carcinoma) was investigated. WSDP and related polyphenolic compounds showed significant anti-metastatic effect (P < 0.01 and P < 0.001) given either before or after tumour-cell inoculation. Oral or systemic application of WSDP or caffeic acid significantly reduced subcutaneous tumour growth and prolonged the survival of mice. Honey also exerted pronounced anti-metastatic effect (P < 0.05) when applied before tumour-cell inoculation (peroral 2 g kg(-1) for mice or 1 g kg(-1) for rats, once a day for 10 consecutive days). Royal jelly did not affect metastasis formation when given intraperitoneally or subcutaneously. However, intravenous administration of royal jelly before tumour-cell inoculation significantly (P < 0.05) inhibited metastasis formation. When mice were given 10(5) tumour cells intravenously immediately after bee venom injection, the number of tumour nodules in the lung was significantly lower (P < 0.001) than in untreated mice or mice treated with bee venom subcutaneously. Local presence of bee venom in the tissue caused significant delay in subcutaneous tumour formation. These findings clearly demonstrate that anti-tumour and anti-metastatic effects of bee venom are highly dependent on the route of injection and on close contact between components of the bee venom and tumour cells. These data show that honey bee products given orally or systemically may have an important role in the control of tumour growth and tumour metastasizing ability.