We have recently demonstrated the antiproliferative and apoptotic activities of herbal traditional Chinese medicines, including the analomous fruit extract of Gleditsia sinensis, the fresh juice of Scutellaria barbata and the warmed water extract of Radix Sophorae Tonkinensis on a series of human carcinoma cells. Here, we further report the potential anti-cancer activity of the warmed water extract of Brucea javanica (BJE). Four cancer cell lines, including A549 non-small cell lung cancer, Hep3B hepatocellular carcinoma, MDA-MB231 breast cancer and SLMT-1 oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma, were incubated with BJE and strong apoptotic induction was observed under inverted microscopic investigation for all of the four cell lines tested. Using the MDA-MB231 breast cancer cell line as an experimental model, additional analyses supported the hypothesis that the mitochondrial membrane potential depolarization pathway was induced by BJE. The APO-1/Fas receptor death induction pathway was not activated under the influence of BJE, as studied by staining with Fas ligand and Fas receptor specific antibodies. Accordingly, only weak activation of caspase 8 was observed upon BJE treatment. On the other hand, caspase 3 activity was stimulated up to five-fold in BJE-treated cells compared to untreated controls. Oligonucleosomal DNA fragmentation formation was detected by labelling the nucleic acid ladders with TdT-mediated dUTP nick end labelling. Collectively, BJE-induced cancer cell death proceeds through a mitochondrial dependent pathway associated with caspase 3 activation.