Since antiquity, Piper betel Linn (betel vine; family Piperaceae) has been an important medicinal agent in the various traditional and folk systems of medicine in Southeast Asia countries. The leaves are the most valued plant part and in the past were routinely used as a chewing agent to prevent halitosis. The leaves are also supposed to harden the gum, conserve the teeth and to prevent indigestion, bronchitis, constipation, congestion, coughs and asthma. Innumerable scientific studies have validated the ethnomedicinal claims. Betel leaves are an integral component of the betel quid that consists of areca nut (Areca catechu Linn.), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L) and slaked lime; a highly abused agent with carcinogenic properties. Regular chewing of betel quid is associated mainly with oral cancer and detail studies with individual constituents of the quid have shown that both tobacco and areca nut are carcinogenic, while slaked lime is shown to promote the process of carcinogenesis. However unlike other constituents of the betel quid, the betel leaves devoid carcinogenic effects and on the contrary possesses cancer preventive effects including against the carcinogens present in tobacco. This review for the first time provides information on cancer preventive effects and also addresses the various mechanisms which might be involved.