Chemoprevention of cancer represents a challenge for oncology during this new millennium. Substantial advances have been accomplished in the last decade, especially for primary and secondary prevention of breast cancer. In addition to tamoxifen, raloxifene and other selective estrogen receptor modulators, retinoids are among the most promising agents, given their ability to inhibit mammary carcinogenesis in preclinical models. Fenretinide, the synthetic amide of retinoic acid, inhibits cell growth mostly through the induction of apoptosis with mechanisms which may partly involve the retinoid receptors. Because it has a favourable toxicological profile, fenretinide has been extensively investigated in clinical trials. A large randomised phase III trial for secondary breast cancer prevention has been recently carried out in Italy. Results showed a reduction of second breast malignancies in premenopausal women. In addition, a significant decrease of circulating insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1, a known risk factor for premenopausal breast cancer, was observed after 1 year of fenretinide administration in premenopausal women with breast cancer. Ongoing studies on the validation of the circulating IGF-1 as a surrogate endpoint biomarker of fenretinide activity and on the effectiveness of the combination with low dose tamoxifen may provide further insight into the future clinical application of fenretinide.