Colorectal cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. Drug resistance and drug-induced damage of healthy tissues are major obstacles in cancer treatment. Therefore, to develop efficient anticancer therapy, it is necessary to find compounds that affect tumor cells, but do not exhibit toxicity to healthy cells. Caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) has been demonstrated to have anticancer properties in many types of cancer. In this study, the cytotoxic and apoptotic effects of CAPE on the RKO colorectal cancer cell line and CCD 841-CoN normal colorectal cell line was investigated. In addition, changes in the survivin expression were determined. According to the results, CAPE decreased cell viability in the RKO cell line in a dose-dependent manner. Likewise, CAPE induced apoptotic cell death in approximately 40% of the RKO cells. Furthermore, CAPE treatment increased the Serine 15 (Ser15) and Serine 46 (Ser46) phosphorylation of p53, while decreased the survivin expression. The results suggested that CAPE induced apoptosis by regulating p53 phosphorylation, leading to inhibition of the survivin expression. In accordance with the results, it is suggested that CAPE might be evaluated as an alternative drug in cancer therapy and further investigation is needed within this scope. Copyright © 2020 The Author(s).