Phytochemicals may exert chemo-preventive effects on cells of the gastro-intestinal tract by modulating epigenome-regulated gene expression. The effect of the aqueous extract from the edible fruit of Opuntia ficus-indica (OFI extract), and of its betalain pigment indicaxanthin (Ind), on proliferation of human colon cancer Caco-2 cells has been investigated. Whole extract and Ind caused a dose-dependent apoptosis of proliferating cells at nutritionally relevant amounts, with IC50 400 ± 25 mg fresh pulp equivalents/mL, and 115 ± 15 μM (n = 9), respectively, without toxicity for post-confluent differentiated cells. Ind accounted for ∼80% of the effect of the whole extract. Ind did not cause oxidative stress in proliferating Caco-2 cells. Epigenomic activity of Ind was evident as de-methylation of the tumor suppressor p16INK4a gene promoter, reactivation of the silenced mRNA expression and accumulation of p16 INK4a, a major controller of cell cycle. As a consequence, decrease of hyper-phosphorylated, in favor of the hypo-phosphorylated retinoblastoma was observed, with unaltered level of the cycline-dependent kinase CDK4. Cell cycle showed arrest in the G2/M-phase. Dietary cactus pear fruit and Ind may have chemo-preventive potential in intestinal cells. © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.