Our previous studies have found that (±)-(E)-12-hydroxyoctadec-10-enoic acid (HOEA) isolated from the red alga Tricleocarpa jejuensis showed cytotoxic effects on various living organisms including harmful microalgae, Gram-positive bacteria, and mammalian tumor cells. Since natural products with apoptosis-inducing ability can be promising anti-cancer agents, in this study, we investigated the cytotoxic mechanism of HOEA on U937 cells focusing on apoptosis induction. HOEA showed much stronger cytotoxic and cytolytic effects on U937 cells than elaidic acid, which has similar structure but no 12-hydroxy group, suggesting that hydroxy group is important for the cytotoxicity of HOEA. HOEA induced apoptotic nuclear morphological changes, DNA fragmentation, and decrease in mitochondrial membrane potential. Furthermore, time-dependent increase in annexin V+/PI+ cell population in HOEA-treated U937 cells was detected. Among the apoptosis-related reagents, caspase-family inhibitor almost completely inhibited HOEA-induced DNA fragmentation. In the analyses using specific caspase-substrates, extremely high cleavage activity toward caspase-3/7/8 substrate was observed in HOEA-treated U937 cells, and weak activities of caspase-1 and -3 were detected. Analyses using specific caspase inhibitors suggested that caspase-3 and caspase-8 might be predominantly responsible for the cleavage activity. Activation of these caspases were also confirmed by western blotting in which significant levels of cleaved forms of caspase 3, caspase 8, and PARP were detected in HOEA-treated U937 cells. Our results suggest that HOEA is capable of inducing apoptosis in U937 cells in which caspase-3 and caspase-8 might play important roles. Since the cytotoxic effect of HOEA is not strictly specific to tumor cells, development of appropriate drug delivery system for selective tumor targeting is necessary for the clinical applications to reduce the possible side effects.