D,L-alpha-difluoromethylornithine (DFMO) was synthesized over 20 years ago. It was hoped that this enzyme-activated, irreversible inhibitor of ornithine decarboxylase, the first enzyme in polyamine synthesis, would be effective as a chemotherapy for hyperproliferative diseases, including cancer and/or infectious processes. DFMO was generally found to exert cytostatic effects on mammalian cells and tissues, and its effectiveness as a therapeutic agent has been modest. DFMO was also found to cause treatment-limiting (but reversible) ototoxicity at high doses. This side effect, along with its minimal therapeutic activity, contributed to the loss of interest by many clinicians in further developing DFMO as a cancer therapeutic agent. However, DFMO was subsequently shown to inhibit carcinogen-induced cancer development in a number of rodent models, and interest in developing this compound as a preventive agent has increased. The rationale for the inhibition of ornithine decarboxylase as a cancer chemopreventive agent has been strengthened in recent years because this enzyme has been shown to be transactivated by the c-myc oncogene in certain cell/tissue types and to cooperate with the ras oncogene in malignant transformation of epithelial tissues. Recent clinical cancer chemoprevention trials, using dose de-escalation designs, indicate that DFMO can be given over long periods of time at low doses that suppress polyamine contents in gastrointestinal and other epithelial tissues but cause no detectable hearing loss or other side effects. Current clinical chemoprevention trials are investigating the efficacy of DFMO to suppress surrogate end point biomarkers (e.g., colon polyp recurrence) of carcinogenesis in patient populations at elevated risk for the development of specific epithelial cancers, including colon, esophageal, breast, cutaneous, and prostate malignancies.