The flavonoids are a group of naturally-occurring, low molecular weight compounds that are widespread in plants. Representatives of several different classes of flavonoids were tested for their effects on the proliferation of an estrogen receptor-positive human breast cancer cell line, MCF-7. The IC50S (concentration at which cell proliferation was inhibited by 50%), based on [3H]thymidine incorporation, ranged from 4.2 to 18.0 micrograms/mL. The cells were viable at these concentrations. The possibility that flavonoids may block cell proliferation by binding to the estrogen receptor was explored. The cells were depleted of endogenous steroids and incubated with individual flavonoids at their IC50 concentration. Half of the cells were exposed to an excess concentration of 17 beta-estradiol to see if this affected antiproliferation by the flavonoids. Of the flavonoids tested, only the inhibition of cell proliferation by genistein was reversed with the addition of excess, competing estrogen. Baicalein, galangin, hesperetin, naringenin and quercetin apparently exert their antiproliferative activity via some other mechanism.