There is at present, much optimism about the possibility of finding selective anticancer drugs that will eliminate the cytotoxic side effects associated with conventional cancer chemotherapy. This hope is based on uncovering many novel molecular targets that are 'cancer-specific', which will allow the targeting of cancer cells while normal cells are spared. Thus far, encouraging results have been obtained with several of these novel agents at the preclinical level, and clinical trials have begun. These targets are involved at one level or more in tumor biology, including tumor cell proliferation, angiogenesis and metastasis. Novel targets for which advances are being made include the following: growth factor receptor tyrosine kinases such as the epidermal growth factor receptor and HER-2/neu (proliferation); the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor and the basic fibroblast growth factor receptor (angiogenesis); the oncogenic GTP-binding protein Ras (especially agents targeting Ras farnesylation, farnesyltransferase inhibitors) (proliferation); protein kinase C (proliferation and drug resistance); cyclin-dependent kinases (proliferation); and matrix metalloproteinases and angiogenin (angiogenesis and metastasis). Less explored, but potentially useful targets include the receptor tyrosine kinase platelet-derived growth factor receptor, mitogen-activated protein kinase cascade oncogenes such as Raf-1 and mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase, cell adhesion molecules such as integrins, anti-apoptosis proteins such as Bcl-2, MDM2 and survivin, and the cell life-span target telomerase.