Background: There is clinical evidence that very low and safe levels of amplitude-modulated electromagnetic fields administered via an intrabuccal spoon-shaped probe may elicit therapeutic responses in patients with cancer. However, there is no known mechanism explaining the anti-proliferative effect of very low intensity electromagnetic fields. Methods: To understand the mechanism of this novel approach, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells were exposed to 27.12 MHz radiofrequency electromagnetic fields using in vitro exposure systems designed to replicate in vivo conditions. Cancer cells were exposed to tumour-specific modulation frequencies, previously identified by biofeedback methods in patients with a diagnosis of cancer. Control modulation frequencies consisted of randomly chosen modulation frequencies within the same 100 Hz-21 kHz range as cancer-specific frequencies. Results: The growth of HCC and breast cancer cells was significantly decreased by HCC-specific and breast cancer-specific modulation frequencies, respectively. However, the same frequencies did not affect proliferation of nonmalignant hepatocytes or breast epithelial cells. Inhibition of HCC cell proliferation was associated with downregulation of XCL2 and PLP2. Furthermore, HCC-specific modulation frequencies disrupted the mitotic spindle. Conclusion: These findings uncover a novel mechanism controlling the growth of cancer cells at specific modulation frequencies without affecting normal tissues, which may have broad implications in oncology. © 2012 Cancer Research UK All rights reserved.