AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a cellular energy sensor that is conserved in eukaryotes. Elevated AMP/ATP ratio activates AMPK, which inhibits energy-consuming processes and activates energy-producing processes to restore the energy homeostasis inside the cell. AMPK activators, metformin and thiazolidinediones, are used for the treatment of type II diabetes. Recently, reports have indicated that AMPK may also be a beneficial target for cancer treatment. Cancer cells have characteristic metabolic changes different from normal cells and, being a key metabolic regulator, AMPK may regulate the switch. AMPK may act to inhibit tumorigenesis through regulation of cell growth, cell proliferation, autophagy, stress responses and cell polarity.