This review will discuss the mechanisms of repair and regeneration in various tissue types and how dysregulation of these mechanisms may lead to cancer. Normal tissue homeostasis involves a careful balance between cell loss and cell renewal. Stem and progenitor cells perform these biologic processes as the functional units of regeneration during both tissue homeostasis and repair. The concept of tissue stem cells capable of giving rise to all differentiated cells within a given tissue led to the concept of a cellular hierarchy in tissues and in tumors. Thus, only a few cells may be necessary and sufficient for tissue repair or tumor regeneration. This is known as the hierarchical model of tumorigenesis. This report will compare this model with the stochastic model of tumorigenesis. Under normal circumstances, the processes of tissue regeneration or homeostasis are tightly regulated by several morphogen pathways to prevent excessive or inappropriate cell growth. This review presents the recent evidence that dysregulation of these processes may provide opportunities for carcinogenesis for the long-lived, highly proliferative tissue stem cell population. New findings of cancer initiating tissue stem cells identified in several solid and circulating cancers including breast, brain and hematopoietic tumors will also be reviewed. Finally, this report reviews the cellular biology of cancer and its relevance to the development of more effective cancer treatment protocols.