Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a heterogeneous disease, including at least three major forms: hereditary, sporadic and colitis-associated CRC. A large body of evidence indicates that genetic mutations, epigenetic changes, chronic inflammation, diet and lifestyle are the risk factors for CRC. As elevated cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) expression was found in most CRC tissue and is associated with worse survival among CRC patients, investigators have sought to evaluate the effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and selective COX-2 inhibitors (COXIBs) on CRC. The epidemiological studies, clinical trials and animal experiments indicate that NSAIDs are among the most promising chemopreventive agents for this disease. NSAIDs exert their anti-inflammatory and antitumor effects primarily by reducing prostaglandin production by inhibition of COX-2 activity. In this review, we highlight breakthroughs in our understanding of the roles of COX-2 in CRC and inflammatory bowel disease. These recent data provide a rationale for re-evaluating COX-2 as both the prognostic and the predictive marker in a wide variety of malignancies and for renewing the interest in evaluating relative benefits and risk of COXIBs in appropriately selected patients for cancer prevention and treatment.