Gene therapy has now become a standard experimental approach for treating cancers that have failed conventional therapies. As the understanding of the molecular nature of carcinogenesis develops, new approaches are being taken to directly target tumor cells, thus bypassing the difficulties of killing cells that are resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. One emerging gene therapy approach has been through the genetic modification of tumor cells with a suicide gene such as the herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase gene (HSV-TK) and ganciclovir (GCV) therapy. Death of tumor cells modified with the HSV-TK gene leads to killing of unmodified in situ tumor cells in a phenomenon termed the "bystander effect." The basis both for this effect and other gene therapy trials underway for the treatment of cancer will be discussed.