Irinotecan, a topoisomerase I inhibitor, is clinically used as an anticancer drug. The present study investigated the anticancer effect of irinotecan on p53-negative Caco-2 and p53-positive CW2 human colorectal cancer cell lines. Cell viability for both Caco-2 and CW2 cells was little affected by treatment with irinotecan at concentrations ranging from 0.3 to 30 μmol/l for 24-48 h. Irinotecan did not increase the number of TUNEL-positive cells and did not affect the population of propidium iodide (PI)-positive and annexin V-negative cells, corresponding to primary necrosis, or that of PI-positive and annexin-positive cells, corresponding to late apoptosis/secondary necrosis, in either of the two cell lines. In the cell cycle analysis, irinotecan significantly increased the proportions at the S and G2/M phases of cell cycling in parallel with a decreased population at the G1 phase in both cell lines. Irinotecan significantly inhibited tumor growth in mice inoculated with CW2 cells. Taken together, these results indicate that irinotecan induces cell cycle arrest, but not apoptosis or necrosis, both in Caco-2 and CW2 cells, leading to suppression of cell proliferation.