Recent in vitro, animal, and epidemiological studies suggest that dietary lignans may be chemopreventive, potentially through anti-estrogenic, anti-angiogenic, pro- apoptotic, and anti-oxidant mechanisms. In this article, we review lignan food sources and metabolism, proposed anti-carcinogenic mechanisms, and the evidence for a role of lignans in breast, colon, and prostate cancer prevention from animal and epidemiologic literature. Although a number of in vitro and animal studies support a role for lignan-rich foods and purified lignans in the modulation of cancer events of the breast, prostate, and colon, epidemiological studies, sparse and often retrospective in nature, offer inconsistent findings. The most support for a role of lignans in cancer is observed for premenopausal breast cancer. Additional epidemiological studies that use a prospective design and well-developed food databases and questionnaires are needed to adequately evaluate the role of lignans in cancer prevention.