microRNAs (miRNAs) are highly conserved, non-protein-coding RNAs that function to regulate gene expression. In mammals this regulation is primarily carried out by repression of translation. miRNAs play important roles in homeostatic processes such as development, cell proliferation and cell death. Recently the dysregulation of miRNAs has been linked to cancer initiation and progression, indicating that miRNAs may play roles as tumour suppressor genes or oncogenes. The role of miRNAs in apoptosis is not fully understood, however, evidence is mounting that miRNAs are important in this process. The dysregulation of miRNAs involved in apoptosis may provide a mechanism for cancer development and resistance to cancer therapy. This review examines the biosynthesis of miRNA, the mechanisms of miRNA target regulation and the involvement of miRNAs in the initiation and progression of human cancer. It will include miRNAs involved in apoptosis, specifically those miRNAs involved in the regulation of apoptotic pathways and tumour suppressor/oncogene networks. It will also consider emerging evidence supporting a role for miRNAs in modulating sensitivity to anti-cancer therapy.