Genetic lesions that disable key regulators of G1 phase progression in mammalian cells are present in most human cancers. Mitogen-dependent, cyclin D-dependent kinases (cdk4 and cdk6) phosphorylate the retinoblastoma (Rb) tumor suppressor protein, helping to cancel its growth-inhibitory effects and enabling E2F transcription factors to activate genes required for entry into the DNA synthetic phase (S) of the cell division cycle. Among the E2F-responsive genes are cyclins E and A, which combine with and activate cdk2 to facilitate S phase entry and progression. Accumulation of cyclin D-dependent kinases during G1 phase sequesters cdk2 inhibitors of the Cip/Kip family, complementing the effects of the E2F transcriptional program by facilitating cyclin E-cdk2 activation at the G1-S transition. Disruption of "the Rb pathway" results from direct mutational inactivation of Rb function, by overexpression of cyclin D-dependent kinases, or through loss of p16(INK4a), an inhibitor of the cyclin D-dependent kinases. Reduction in levels of p27(Kip1) and increased expression of cyclin E also occur and carry a poor prognostic significance in many common forms of cancer. The ARF tumor suppressor, encoded by an alternative reading frame of the INK4a-ARF locus, senses "mitogenic current" flowing through the Rb pathway and is induced by abnormal growth promoting signals. By antagonizing Mdm2, a negative regulator of the p53 tumor suppressor, ARF triggers a p53-dependent transcriptional response that diverts incipient cancer cells to undergo growth arrest or apoptosis. Although ARF is not directly activated by signals that damage DNA, its loss not only dampens the p53 response to abnormal mitogenic signals but also renders tumor cells resistant to treatment by cytotoxic drugs and irradiation. Lesions in the p16--cyclin D-CDK4--Rb and ARF--Mdm2--p53 pathways occur so frequently in cancer, regardless of patient age or tumor type, that they appear to be part of the life history of most, if not all, cancer cells.