CD40, a member of the tumor necrosis factor receptor (TNF-R) family, is a surface receptor best known for its capacity to initiate multifaceted activation signals in normal B cells and dendritic cells (DCs). CD40-related treatment approaches have been considered for the experimental therapy of human leukemias, lymphomas, and multiple myeloma, based on findings that CD40 binding by its natural ligand (CD40L), CD154, led to growth modulation of malignant B cells. Recent studies also exploited the selective expression of the CD40 receptor on human epithelial and mesenchymal tumors but not on most normal, nonproliferating epithelial tissues. Ligation of CD40 on human breast, ovarian, cervical, bladder, non small cell lung, and squamous epithelial carcinoma cells was found to produce a direct growth-inhibitory effect through cell cycle blockage and/or apoptotic induction with no overt side effects on their normal counterparts. CD154 treatment also heightened tumor rejection immune responses through DC activation, and by increasing tumor immunogenicity through up-regulation of costimulatory molecule expression and cytokine production of epithelial cancer cells. These immunopotentiating features can produce a "bystander effect" through which the CD40-negative tumor subset is eliminated by activated tumor-reactive cytotoxic T cells. However, the potential risk of systemic inflammation and autoimmune consequences remains a concern for systemic CD154-based experimental therapy. The promise of CD154 as a tumor therapeutic agent to directly modulate tumor cell growth, and indirectly activate antitumor immune response, may depend on selective and/or restricted CD154 expression within the tumor microenvironment. This may be achieved by inoculating cancer vaccines of autologous cancer cells that have been transduced ex vivo with CD154, as documented by recently clinical trials. This review summarizes recent findings on CD154 recombinant protein- and gene therapy-based tumor treatment approaches, and examines our understanding of the multifaceted molecular mechanisms of CD154-CD40 interactions.