Polyphenols constitute an important group of phytochemicals that gained increased research attention since it was found that they could affect cancer cell growth. Initial evidence came from epidemiologic studies suggesting that a diet that includes regular consumption of fruits and vegetables (rich in polyphenols) significantly reduces the risk of many cancers. In the present work we briefly review the effects of polyphenols on cancer cell fate, leading towards growth, differentiation and apoptosis. Their action can be attributed not only to their ability to act as antioxidants but also to their ability to interact with basic cellular mechanisms. Such interactions include interference with membrane and intracellular receptors, modulation of signaling cascades, interaction with the basic enzymes involved in tumor promotion and metastasis, interaction with oncogenes and oncoproteins, and, finally, direct or indirect interactions with nucleic acids and nucleoproteins. These actions involve almost the whole spectrum of basic cellular machinery--from the cell membrane to signaling cytoplasmic molecules and to the major nuclear components--and provide insights into their beneficial health effects. In addition, the actions justify the scientific interest in this class of compounds, and provide clues about their possible pharmaceutical exploitation in the field of oncology.