PURPOSE: Chemotherapies for breast cancer generally have strong cellular cytotoxicity and severe side effects. Thus, significant emphasis has been placed on combinations of naturally occurring chemopreventive agents. Silibinin is a major bioactive flavonolignan extracted from milk thistle with chemopreventive activity in various organs including the skin, prostate, and breast. However, the mechanism underlying the inhibitory action of silibinin in breast cancer has not been completely elucidated. Therefore, we investigated the effect of silibinin in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells and determined whether silibinin enhances ultraviolet (UV) B-induced apoptosis. METHODS: The effects of silibinin on MCF-7 cell viability were determined using the MTT assay. The effect of silibinin on PARP cleavage, as the hallmark of apoptotic cell death, and p53 protein expression in MCF-7 cells was analyzed using Western blot. The effect of silibinin on UVB-induced apoptosis in MCF-7 cells was analyzed by flow cytometry. RESULTS: A dose- and time-dependent reduction in viability was observed in MCF-7 cells treated with silibinin. Silibinin strongly induced apoptotic cell death in MCF-7 cells, and induction of apoptosis was associated with increased p53 expression. Moreover, silibinin enhanced UVB-induced apoptosis in MCF-7 cells. CONCLUSION: Silibinin induced a loss of cell viability and apoptotic cell death in MCF-7 cells. Furthermore, the combination of silibinin and UVB resulted in an additive effect on apoptosis in MCF-7 cells. These results suggest that silibinin might be an important supplemental agent for treating patients with breast cancer.