1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3[1,25(OH)2D3] is a well-known potent regulator of cell growth and differentiation and there is recent evidence of an effect on cell death, tumour invasion and angiogenesis, which makes it a candidate agent for cancer regulation. The classical synthetic pathway of 1,25(OH)2D3 involves 25- and 1 alpha-hydroxylation of vitamin D3, in the liver and kidney, respectively, of absorbed or skin-synthesized vitamin D3. There is recent focus on the importance in growth control of local metabolism of 1,25(OH)2D3, which is a function of local tissue synthetic hydroxylases and particularly the principal catabolizing enzyme, 24-hydroxylase. The classical signalling pathway of 1,25(OH)2D3 employs the vitamin D nuclear receptor (VDR), which is a transcription factor for 1,25(OH)2D3 target genes. Effects of this pathway include inhibition of cellular growth and invasion. Cytoplasmic signalling pathways are increasingly being recognized, which similarly may regulate growth and differentiation but also apoptosis. 1,25(OH)2D3 has a major inhibitory effect on the G1/S checkpoint of the cell cycle by upregulating the cyclin dependent kinase inhibitors p27 and p21, and by inhibiting cyclin D1. Indirect mechanisms include upregulation of transforming growth factor-beta and downregulation of the epidermal growth factor receptor. 1,25(OH)2D3 may induce apoptosis either indirectly through effects on the insulin-like growth receptor and tumour necrosis factor-alpha or more directly via the Bcl-2 family system, the ceramide pathway, the death receptors (e.g. Fas) and the stress-activated protein kinase pathways (Jun N terminal kinase and p38). Inhibition of tumour invasion and metastasis potential has been demonstrated and mechanisms include inhibition of serine proteinases, metalloproteinases and angiogenesis. The lines of evidence for an effect of vitamin D3 in systemic cancer are the laboratory demonstration of relevant effects on cellular growth, differentiation, apoptosis, malignant cell invasion and metastasis; epidemiological findings of an association of the occurrence and outcome of cancers with derangements of vitamin D3/1,25(OH)2D3 and the association of functional polymorphisms of the VDR with the occurrence of certain cancers. In addition, vitamin D3 analogues are being developed as cancer chemotherapy agents. There is accumulating evidence that the vitamin D3/1,25(OH)2D3/VDR axis is similarly important in malignant melanoma (MM). MM cells express the VDR, and the antiproliferative and prodifferentiation effects of 1,25(OH)2D3 have been shown in cultured melanocytes, MM cells and MM xenografts. Recently, an inhibitory effect on the spread of MM cells has been demonstrated, low serum levels of 1,25(OH)2D3 have been reported in MM patients and the VDR polymorphisms have been shown to be associated with both the occurrence and outcome of MM. The relationship between solar irradiation and MM is more complex than for the systemic cancers. As in other cancers, there is evidence of a protective effect of vitamin D3 in MM, but ultraviolet radiation, which is a principal source of vitamin D3, is mutagenic. Further work is necessary on the influence of serum vitamin D3 levels on the occurrence and prognosis of MM, the effects of sun protection measures on serum vitamin D3 levels in temperate climates and epidemiological studies on geographical factors and skin type on the prognosis of MM. Meanwhile, it would seem mandatory to ensure an adequate vitamin D3 status if sun exposure were seriously curtailed, certainly in relation to carcinoma of breast, prostate and colon and probably also MM.