Cellular immortalization is a crucial step during the development of human cancer. Primary mammalian cells reach replicative exhaustion after several passages in vitro, a process called replicative senescence. During such a state of permanent growth arrest, senescent cells are refractory to physiological proliferation stimuli: they have altered cell morphology and gene expression patterns, although they remain viable with preserved metabolic activity. Interestingly, senescent cells have also been detected in vivo in human tumors, particularly in benign lesions. Senescence is a mechanism that limits cellular lifespan and constitutes a barrier against cellular immortalization. During immortalization, cells acquire genetic alterations that override senescence. Tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes are closely involved in senescence, as their knockdown and ectopic expression confer immortality and senescence induction, respectively. By using high throughput genetic screening to search for genes involved in senescence, several candidate oncogenes and putative tumor suppressor genes have been recently isolated, including subtypes of micro-RNAs. These findings offer new perspectives in the modulation of senescence and open new approaches for cancer therapy.