Vitamin A and its biologically active derivatives, retinal and retinoic acid (RA), together with a large repertoire of synthetic analogues are collectively referred to as retinoids. Naturally occurring retinoids regulate the growth and differentiation of a wide variety of cell types and play a crucial role in the physiology of vision and as morphogenic agents during embryonic development. Retinoids and their analogues have been evaluated as chemoprevention agents, and also in the management of acute promyelocytic leukaemia. Retinoids exert most of their effects by binding to specific receptors and modulating gene expression. The development of new active retinoids and the identification of two distinct families of retinoid receptors has led to an increased understanding of the cellular effects of activation of these receptors. In this article we review the use of retinoids in chemoprevention strategies, discuss the cellular consequences of activated retinoid receptors, and speculate on how our increasing understanding of retinoid-induced signalling pathways may contribute to future therapeutic strategies in the management of malignant disease.