Understanding the mechanisms underlying carcinogenesis provides insights that are necessary for the development of therapeutic strategies to prevent cancer. Chemoprevention--the use of drugs or natural substances to inhibit carcinogenesis - is an important and rapidly evolving aspect of cancer research. We discuss evidence that cyclooxygenase 2 (COX 2), an inducible form of the enzyme, is a potential pharmacological target to prevent cancer. Key data implicating a causal relation between increased activity of COX 2 and carcinogenesis and possible mechanisms of action of COX 2 in this context are covered. Importantly, selective COX 2 inhibitors appear to be safe enough in human beings to allow large-scale clinical testing in healthy people. Several chemoprevention trials using selective COX 2 inhibitors are underway.