Apoptotic effects of protocatechuic acid (PCA) at 1, 2, 4, 8 micromol/L on human breast cancer MCF7 cell, lung cancer A549 cell, HepG2 cell, cervix HeLa cell, and prostate cancer LNCaP cell were examined. Results showed that PCA concentration-dependently decreased cell viability, increased lactate dehydrogenase leakage, enhanced DNA fragmentation, reduced mitochondrial membrane potential, and lowered Na(+)-K(+)-ATPase activity for these cancer cells (P < 0.05). PCA also concentration-dependently elevated caspase-3 activity in five cancer cells (P < 0.05), but this agent at 2-8 micromol/L significantly increased caspase-8 activity (P < 0.05). PCA concentration-dependently decreased intercellular adhesion molecule level in test cancer cells (P < 0.05) but significantly inhibited cell adhesion at 2-8 micromol/L (P < 0.05). PCA also concentration-dependently lowered the levels of interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8 in five cancer cells (P < 0.05), but this agent at 2-8 micromol/L significantly suppressed vascular endothelial growth factor production (P < 0.05). These findings suggest that PCA is a potent anticancer agent to cause apoptosis or retard invasion and metastasis in these five cancer cells.