Silymarin and its major constituent, Silibinin, are extracts from the medicinal plant Silybum marianum (milk thistle) and have traditionally been used for the treatment of liver diseases. Recently, these orally active, flavonoid agents have also been shown to exert significant anti-neoplastic effects in a variety of in vitro and in vivo cancer models, including skin, breast, lung, colon, bladder, prostate and kidney carcinomas. The aim of the present review is to examine the pharmacokinetics, mechanisms, effectiveness and adverse effects of silibinin's anti-cancer actions reported to date in pre-clinical and clinical trials. The review will also discuss the results of current research efforts seeking to determine the extent to which the effectiveness of silibinin as an adjunct cancer treatment is influenced by such factors as histologic subtype, hormonal status, stromal interactions and drug metabolising gene polymorphisms. The results of these studies may help to more precisely target and dose silibinin therapy to optimise clinical outcomes for oncology patients.