The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of unhydrolysed/intact casein and eight different sodium casein hydrolysates (a–h) on the viability and growth of human cancer cell lines. Both human Jurkat T cells and Caco-2 cells were incubated with increasing concentrations of the test compounds (0·5–10% v/v) for 24 h. Cell viability was assessed using the MTT, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release and Trypan Blue assays. Cell growth was monitored using the MTT, Trypan Blue and Bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) proliferation assays. Casein hydrolysates b, c and f had an inhibitory effect on the viability and growth of both cell lines. The casein hydrolysates did not negatively affect the membrane integrity of both Jurkat and Caco-2 cells. In Jurkat cells hydrolysates a and h had an inhibitory effect on DNA synthesis after 24 h, while in Caco-2 cells DNA synthesis was not affected. In conclusion, we found that the different casein hydrolysates had cell-specific effects which target particular functions within the cell. Overall, casein hydrolysates had no effect on membrane integrity while they had varied effects on mitochondrial activity and DNA synthesis in the different cell lines.