Since its discovery in 1995, tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL), a member of the tumor necrosis factor super family, has been under intense focus because of its remarkable ability to induce apoptosis in malignant human cells while leaving normal cells unscathed. Consequently, activation of the apoptotic signaling pathway from the death-inducing TRAIL receptors provides an attractive, biologically-targeted approach to cancer therapy. A great deal of research has focused on deciphering the TRAIL receptor signaling cascade and intracellular regulation of this pathway, as many human tumor cells possess mechanisms of resistance to TRAIL-induced apoptosis. This review focuses on the current state of knowledge regarding TRAIL signaling and resistance, the preclinical development of therapies targeted at TRAIL receptors and modulators of the pathway, and the results of clinical trials for cancer treatment that have emerged from this base of knowledge. TRAIL-based approaches to cancer therapy vary from systemic administration of recombinant, soluble TRAIL protein with or without the combination of traditional chemotherapy, radiation or novel anti-cancer agents to agonistic monoclonal antibodies directed against functional TRAIL receptors to TRAIL gene transfer therapy. A better understanding of TRAIL resistance mechanisms may allow for the development of more effective therapies that exploit this cell-mediated pathway to apoptosis.