This paper is a comprehensive review of the effects of bioactive polyphenolic compounds commonly found in many fruits and vegetables on cancer. These include the pheniolic acids, anthocyanins, catechins, stilbenes and several other flavonoids. We have attempted to compile information from most of the major studies in this area into one source. The review encompasses the occurrence and bioavailability of the polyphenolics, the in vitro and in vivo evidence for their effects on cancer, both positive and negative, and the various mechanisms by which the chemicals may exert their effects. Although most of the work done to date indicates a chemopreventative activity of these compounds, there are some studies that show cancer-inducing or no effects. There are several common mechanisms by which these chemicals exert their effects that could be conducive to additive, synergistic, or antagonistic interactions. These include effects on cellular differentiation, proliferation, and apoptosis, effects on proteins and enzymes that are involved in these processes at a molecular level, and other various effects through altered immune function and chemical metabolism.