Theophylline- and caffeine-treated B16-F10 cells exhibited low adhesion to laminin/collagen type IV and reduced invasion through Matrigel in an in vitro assay. In contrast, theobromine appeared ineffective. When young adult C57BL/6 mice were injected intravenously with theophylline-treated B16-F10 cells, the number of surface lung tumours was markedly reduced. Densitometric analyses performed on digitalized microscopic images of histological sections of lung were used to estimate the frequency (number of lung foci; NLF) and the size (average area of metastatic foci; AMF) of the resulting tumour foci. These parameters were correlated to the proliferation (AMF) and invasion (NLF) of melanoma cells in vivo. The data showed a similar theophylline-induced decrease in the AMF and NLF values (71%, P < 0.01). Caffeine treatment produced a more pronounced decrease in the AMF (61%, P < 0.01) than in the NLF (25%, P < 0.01). To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that theophylline and caffeine possess the capacity to inhibit not only cell proliferation, but also the metastatic behaviour of melanoma cancer cells.