The retinoids are a class of compounds that are structurally related to vitamin A. Retinoic acid, which is the active metabolite of retinol, regulates a wide range of biological processes including development, differentiation, proliferation, and apoptosis. Retinoids exert their effects through a variety of binding proteins including cellular retinol-binding protein (CRBP), retinol-binding proteins (RBP), cellular retinoic acid-binding protein (CRABP), and nuclear receptors i.e. retinoic acid receptor (RAR) and retinoid x receptor (RXR). Because of the pleiotropic effects of retinoids, understanding the function of these binding proteins and nuclear receptors assists us in developing compounds that have specific effects. This review summarizes our current understanding of how retinoids are processed and act with an emphasis on the application of retinoids in cancer treatment and prevention.