Sesame contains large quantities of the essential polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), linoleic acid, in the form triglycerides. The antineoplastic properties of many PUFAs such as linoleic acid and their metabolites are known. We tested the hypothesis that natural vegetable oils, such as sesame oil and its component linoleic acid, when added to human colon adenocarcinoma cells growing in tissue culture would inhibit their growth and that normal colon cells would not be similarly affected. Three human colon cancer cell lines and one normal human colon cell line were exposed to the following: (1) pure linoleic acid; (2) lipase-digested sesame oil; (3) undigested sesame oil; (4) five additional common vegetable oils; (5) mineral oil. Linoleic acid inhibited the in vitro growth of all three malignant human colon adenocarcinoma cell lines. The normal colon cell line showed dramatically less inhibition of growth. Lipase-digested sesame oil (LDSO) and undigested sesame oil (UDSO) produced greater inhibition of growth of all three malignant colon cell lines than of the normal colon cells. Five other common vegetable oils containing various amounts of PUFAs such as corn, soybean, safflower, olive and coconut oils, all in their lipase-digested form, were found to dramatically inhibit the growth of the HT-29 malignant human colon cell line. Undigested olive and safflower oils also inhibited the HT-29 cells although not as markedly as the lipase-digested oils. Mineral oil did not inhibit the growth of HT-29 cells. Both lauric and palmitic acid, which are saturated fatty acids found in abundance in coconut oil inhibits the HT-29 cells more strongly than linoleic acid, while oleic acid did not inhibit. We conclude that many vegetable oils including sesame contain in vitro antineoplastic properties and that this finding warrants further investigation both in vitro and in vivo to assess their possible chemotherapeutic potential.