The cell cycle is controlled by numerous mechanisms ensuring correct cell division. This review will focus on these mechanisms, i.e. regulation of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDK) by cyclins, CDK inhibitors and phosphorylating events. The quality checkpoints activated after DNA damage are also discussed. The complexity of the regulation of the cell cycle is also reflected in the different alterations leading to aberrant cell proliferation and development of cancer. Consequently, targeting the cell cycle in general and CDK in particular presents unique opportunities for drug discovery. This review provides an overview of deregulation of the cell cycle in cancer. Different families of known CDK inhibitors acting by ATP competition are also discussed. Currently, at least three compounds with CDK inhibitory activity (flavopiridol, UCN-01, roscovitine) have entered clinical trials.