Many natural products and derivatives thereof belong to the standard repertoire of cancer chemotherapy. Examples are Vinca alkaloids, taxanes and camptothecins. In recent years, the potential of natural products from plants, notably from medicinal plants used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), has been recognized by the scientific community in the Western world. To provide an example of the most recent developments in this field, we have selected several compounds, namely artesunate, homoharringtonine, arsenic trioxide and cantharidin, that are found in natural TCM products and that have the potential for use in cancer therapy. Controlled clinical studies have shown that homoharringtonine and arsenic trioxide can exert profound activity against leukaemia. Increased knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of TCM-derived drugs and recent developments in their applications demonstrate that the combination of TCM with modern cutting-edge technologies provides an attractive strategy for the development of novel and improved cancer therapeutics.