Somatic evolution during cancer progression and therapy results in tumour cells that show a wide range of phenotypes, which include rapid proliferation and quiescence. Evolutionary life history theory may help us to understand the diversity of these phenotypes. Fast life history organisms reproduce rapidly, whereas those with slow life histories show less fecundity and invest more resources in survival. Life history theory also provides an evolutionary framework for phenotypic plasticity, which has potential implications for understanding 'cancer stem cells'. Life history theory suggests that different therapy dosing schedules might select for fast or slow life history cell phenotypes, with important clinical consequences.