Established human cancer cell lines are routinely used as experimental models for human cancers. Their validity for such use is analyzed and discussed, with particular focus on thyroid tumors. Although cell lines retain some properties of the cells of origin, from the points of view of their genetics, epigenetics and gene expression, they show clear differences in these properties compared to in vivo tumors. This can be explained by a prior selection of initiating cells and a Darwinian evolution in vitro. The properties of the cell lines are compared to those of the postulated cancer stem cells and their use as models in this regard are discussed. Furthermore, other proper and possible uses of the cell lines are discussed.