The prevalence of obesity, an established epidemiologic risk factor for many cancers, has risen steadily for the past several decades in the US. The increasing rates of obesity among children are especially alarming and suggest continuing increases in the rates of obesity-related cancers for many years to come. Unfortunately, the mechanisms underlying the association between obesity and cancer are not well understood. In particular, the effects on the carcinogenesis process and mechanistic targets of interventions that modulate energy balance, such as reduced-calorie diets and physical activity, have not been well characterized. The purpose of this review is to provide a strong foundation for the translation of mechanism-based research in this area by describing key animal and human studies of energy balance modulations involving diet or physical activity and by focusing on the interrelated pathways affected by alterations in energy balance. Particular attention is placed on signaling through the insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 receptors, including components of the Akt and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathways downstream of these growth factor receptors. These pathways have emerged as potential targets for disrupting the obesity-cancer link. The ultimate goal of this work is to provide the missing mechanistic information necessary to identify targets for the prevention and control of cancers related to or caused by excess body weight.