Several types of human tumors overexpress cyclooxygenase (COX) -2 but not COX-1, and gene knockout transfection experiments demonstrate a central role of COX-2 in experimental tumorigenesis. COX-2 produces prostaglandins that inhibit apoptosis and stimulate angiogenesis and invasiveness. Selective COX-2 inhibitors reduce prostaglandin synthesis, restore apoptosis, and inhibit cancer cell proliferation. In animal studies they limit carcinogen-induced tumorigenesis. In contrast, aspirin-like nonselective NSAIDs such as sulindac and indomethacin inhibit not only the enzymatic action of the highly inducible, proinflammatory COX-2 but the constitutively expressed, cytoprotective COX-1 as well. Consequently, nonselective NSAIDs can cause platelet dysfunction, gastrointestinal ulceration, and kidney damage. For that reason, selective inhibition of COX-2 to treat neoplastic proliferation is preferable to nonselective inhibition. Selective COX-2 inhibitors, such as meloxicam, celecoxib (SC-58635), and rofecoxib (MK-0966), are NSAIDs that have been modified chemically to preferentially inhibit COX-2 but not COX-1. For instance, meloxicam inhibits the growth of cultured colon cancer cells (HCA-7 and Moser-S) that express COX-2 but has no effect on HCT-116 tumor cells that do not express COX-2. NS-398 induces apoptosis in COX-2 expressing LNCaP prostate cancer cells and, surprisingly, in colon cancer S/KS cells that does not express COX-2. This effect may due to induction of apoptosis through uncoupling of oxidative phosphorylation and down-regulation of Bcl-2, as has been demonstrated for some nonselective NSAIDs, for instance, flurbiprofen. COX-2 mRNA and COX-2 protein is constitutively expressed in the kidney, brain, spinal cord, and ductus deferens, and in the uterus during implantation. In addition, COX-2 is constitutively and dominantly expressed in the pancreatic islet cells. These findings might somewhat limit the use of presently available selective COX-2 inhibitors in cancer prevention but will probably not deter their successful application for the treatment of human cancers.