The present study was undertaken to determine the anticancer efficacy of zerumbone (ZER), a sesquiterpene from subtropical ginger, against human breast cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. ZER treatment caused a dose-dependent decrease in viability of MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells in association with G(2)/M phase cell cycle arrest and apoptosis induction. ZER-mediated cell cycle arrest was associated with downregulation of cyclin B1, cyclin-dependent kinase 1, Cdc25C, and Cdc25B. Even though ZER treatment caused stabilization of p53 and induction of PUMA, these proteins were dispensable for ZER-induced cell cycle arrest and/or apoptosis. Exposure of MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 cells to ZER resulted in downregulation of Bcl-2 but its ectopic expression failed to confer protection against ZER-induced apoptosis. On the other hand, the SV40 immortalized mouse embryonic fibroblasts derived from Bax and Bak double knockout mice were significantly more resistant to ZER-induced apoptosis. ZER-treated MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 cells exhibited a robust activation of both Bax and Bak. In vivo growth of orthotopic MDA-MB-231 xenografts was significantly retarded by ZER administration in association with apoptosis induction and suppression of cell proliferation (Ki-67 expression). These results indicate that ZER causes G(2)/M phase cell cycle arrest and Bax/Bak-mediated apoptosis in human breast cancer cells, and retards growth of MDA-MB-231 xenografts in vivo.