Alpinetin is a novel plant flavonoid derived from Alpinia katsumadai Hayata, found to possess strong anticancer effects. However, the antitumor effect of alpinetin on pancreatic cancer cells and the detailed mechanism remain unclear. The aim of this study was to investigate alpinetin's beneficial effect on pancreatic cancer and the possible molecular mechanism involved. Pancreatic cancer cell lines were treated with alpinetin at various doses and for different times, and the effect of alpinetin on cell growth inhibition, apoptosis and the cell cycle was determined. The expression of Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, XIAP and Bax, the activity of caspases and the levels of cytochrome c released were measured. The results showed that alpinetin inhibited the viability of three pancreatic cancer cell lines and induced apoptosis of BxPC-3 cells in a dose- and time-dependent manner. This was accompanied by regulation of the expression of Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, Bax and XIAP. Furthermore, alpinetin treatment led to the release of cytochrome c and activation of caspases-3, -8 and -9 proteins. Taken together, our studies indicate that alpinetin inhibited the proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells possibly through the regulation of the Bcl-2 family and XIAP expression, release of cytochrome c and the activation of caspases. Alpinetin may serve as a potential agent for the development of pancreatic cancer cell therapies.