Endogenous retroviruses and retroviral elements represent a substantial component of vertebrate genomes. They are inherited as stable Mendelian genes and may be activated spontaneously or by physical or chemical agents. In the human genome various retroviral elements have been detected by their relationship with mammalian endogenous and exogenous retroviruses. The structure of these elements resembles either full-length or truncated proviruses. The biological function of human retrovirus-related sequences is still unknown, but like other transposable elements, they may have contributed in shaping the eukaryotic genome. Furthermore, they exhibit a number of features giving them a potential for involvement in carcinogenesis. Expression of endogenous retroviral elements has been detected in various human tissues and cell lines and in some cases appears to be associated with human neoplasias.