Cells require one-carbon units for nucleotide synthesis, methylation and reductive metabolism, and these pathways support the high proliferative rate of cancer cells. As such, anti-folates, drugs that target one-carbon metabolism, have long been used in the treatment of cancer. Amino acids, such as serine are a major one-carbon source, and cancer cells are particularly susceptible to deprivation of one-carbon units by serine restriction or inhibition of de novo serine synthesis. Recent work has also begun to decipher the specific pathways and sub-cellular compartments that are important for one-carbon metabolism in cancer cells. In this review we summarise the historical understanding of one-carbon metabolism in cancer, describe the recent findings regarding the generation and usage of one-carbon units and explore possible future therapeutics that could exploit the dependency of cancer cells on one-carbon metabolism.