The study of the epithelium of the adult mammalian intestine touches upon many modern aspects of biology. The epithelium is in a constant dialogue with the underlying mesenchyme to control stem cell activity, proliferation in transit-amplifying compartments, lineage commitment, terminal differentiation and, ultimately, cell death. There are spatially distinct compartments dedicated to each of these events. The Wnt, TGF-beta, BMP, Notch, and Par polarity pathways are the major players in homeostatic control of the adult epithelium. Several hereditary cancer syndromes deregulate these same signaling cascades through mutational (in)activation. Moreover, these mutations often also occur in sporadic tumors. Thus symmetry exists between the roles that these signaling pathways play in physiology and in cancer of the intestine. This is particularly evident for the Wnt/APC pathway, for which the mammalian intestine has become one of the most-studied paradigms. Here, we integrate recent knowledge of the molecular inner workings of the prototype signaling cascades with their specific roles in intestinal epithelial homeostasis and in neoplastic transformation of the epithelium.