Cytotoxic constituents of propolis inducing anticancer effects: a review

J Pharm Pharmacol. 2011 Nov;63(11):1378-86. doi: 10.1111/j.2042-7158.2011.01331.x. Epub 2011 Sep 27.


Objectives: Propolis is a honeybee product used extensively in traditional medicine for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and anticancer effects. Propolis exhibits a broad spectrum of biological activities because it is a complex mixture of natural substances. In this review, the antitumour effects of propolis extracts and its constituents (e.g. flavonoids, terpenes and caffeic acid phenethyl ester) are discussed.

Key findings: The effect of propolis on experimental carcinogenesis is discussed, as well as its possible mechanisms of action against tumours, involving apoptosis, cell cycle arrest and interference on metabolic pathways. Propolis seems to be efficient against different tumour cells both in vitro and in vivo, which suggests its potential in the development of new anticancer drugs.

Summary: Propolis extracts may be important economically and would allow a relatively inexpensive cancer treatment. Preclinical investigations are needed to further elucidate the benefits of propolis and its antitumour properties.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Caffeic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Diterpenes / pharmacology*
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / pharmacology
  • Propolis / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Caffeic Acids
  • Diterpenes
  • Flavonoids
  • Propolis
  • caffeic acid phenethyl ester
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol