DNA damage, chromosomal abnormalities, oncogene activation, viral infection, substrate detachment and hypoxia can all trigger apoptosis in normal cells. However, cancer cells acquire mutations that allow them to survive these threats that are part and parcel of the transformation process or that may affect the growth and dissemination of the tumor. Eventually, cancer cells accumulate further mutations that make them resistant to apoptosis mediated by standard cytotoxic chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The inhibitor of apoptosis (IAP) family members, defined by the presence of a baculovirus IAP repeat (BIR) protein domain, are key regulators of cytokinesis, apoptosis and signal transduction. Specific IAPs regulate either cell division, caspase activity or survival pathways mediated through binding to their BIR domains, and/or through their ubiquitin-ligase RING domain activity. These protein-protein interactions and post-translational modifications are the subject of intense investigations that shed light on how these proteins contribute to oncogenesis and resistance to therapy. In the past several years, we have seen multiple approaches of IAP antagonism enter the clinic, and the rewards of such strategies are about to reap benefit. Significantly, small molecule pan-IAP antagonists that mimic an endogenous inhibitor of the IAPs, called Smac, have demonstrated an unexpected ability to sensitize cancer cells to tumor necrosis factor-alpha and to promote autocrine or paracrine production of this cytokine by the tumor cell and possibly, other cells too. This review will focus on these and other developmental therapeutics that target the IAPs in cancer.