We have investigated the chemopreventive role of curcumin in gastrointestinal cancers by studying the regulation of proliferation and apoptosis in gastric (KATO-III) and colon (HCT-116) cancer cells. Curcumin inhibited cell proliferation and induced G2/M arrest in HCT-116 cells. Investigation of the levels of cyclins E, D and B by immunoblot analysis showed cyclin B level was unaffected, whereas cyclin D and E levels declined with curcumin in both cell lines. Investigation of cyclin-dependent kinases, Cdk2 and Cdc2, showed activity of Cdc2, but not Cdk2, increased markedly in response to curcumin. In both cell lines, immunoblot analysis indicated that curcumin caused induction of apoptosis as evidenced by cleavage of PARP, caspase-3, and reduction in Bcl-XL levels. Curcumin also stimulated the activity of caspase-8, which initiates Fas signalling pathway of apoptosis. Curcumin therefore appears to exert its anticarcinogenic properties by inhibiting proliferation and inducing apoptosis in certain gastric and colon cancer cells.