Normal cell cycle progression relies on the cell's ability to translate extracellular signals such as mitogenic stimuli and intact extracellular matrices in order to efficiently replicate DNA and divide. Cyclin dependent kinases (cdks) respond to these signals and are largely responsible for positively pushing cells through the cell cycle. Due to their pivotal role in cell division, nature has evolved elaborate mechanisms to regulate the kinase activity of cdks. Cyclins are cdk binding partners which are required for kinase activity and their protein levels are intimately linked to the cell cycle stage. A variety of other cdk regulators such as phosphorylation events, natural inhibitors and complex stability are discussed. Phosphorylation of various cdk substrates results in diverse outcomes such as changes in gene expression, formation of prereplicative complexes and breakdown of the nuclear envelope. Cancer cells evolve in part by over-riding normal cell cycle regulation. Abnormal cdk activity is accomplished by cyclin amplification, cdk or substrate mutation as well as inactivation of inhibitors. The selective growth advantage of cancer cells also stems from amplification of positive growth signals, mutation of checkpoint and surveillance genes as well as deregulation of programmed cell death or apoptosis. The full potential of cancer therapies, such as small molecule inhibitors and gene therapy among others, focusing on our knowledge of cell cycle regulation has yet to be reached.