Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are generally prescribed to ameliorate symptoms associated with acute pain and chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. Recent epidemiologic studies and clinical trials indicate that use of NSAIDs and cyclooxygenase (COX)-2 selective inhibitors are associated with a reduced risk of certain malignancies, especially gastrointestinal cancer. The cyclooxygenase enzymes are the best known targets of NSAIDs; this diverse class of compounds blocks conversion of arachidonic acid to prostanoids. Prostaglandins and other eicosanoids derived from COX-1 and COX-2 are involved in a variety of physiologic and pathologic processes in the gastrointestinal tract. Recent efforts to identify the molecular mechanisms by which COX-2-derived prostanoids exert their proneoplastic effects have provided a rationale for the possible use of NSAIDs alone or in a combination with conventional or experimental anticancer agents for the treatment or prevention of gastrointestinal cancers.