Protein kinase C (PKC) isoforms are serine/threonine kinases involved in signal transduction pathways that govern a wide range of physiological processes including differentiation, proliferation, gene expression, brain function, membrane transport and the organization of cytoskeletal and extracellular matrix proteins. PKC isoforms are often overexpressed in disease states such as cancer. In this review, PKC in a variety of cancers is discussed along with some specific cell biological mechanisms by which PKC exerts its function(s). The PKC family consists of several isoforms comprising three groups classical, novel and atypical. Although PKC has been investigated for around 2 decades, only recently has the specific function of each isoform started to be elucidated and the isoforms evaluated for use as targets of drug action. Phorbol esters such as the tumor-promoter 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) or diacylglycerol (DAG) activate classical and novel PKC isoforms. Naturally occurring retinoi ds, antisense oligonucleotides against specific PKC isoforms and specific PKC inhibitors can block this activation. Beta carotene and retinoid derivatives act as anticarcinogenic agents and can antagonize some of the biological actions of phorbol esters and oxidants. Another important area of investigation is the use of antisense oligonucleotides to inhibit specific PKC isoforms. These compounds have proven effective in reducing specific types of cancer in rodents and humans and are currently used in clinical trials. This review examines PKC isoforms as a target of drug action with special emphasis on their use in cancer therapy.