One of the hallmarks in the advancement of cancer cells is an ability to overcome and acquire resistance to adverse conditions. There has been a large amount of cancer research on IGFBP-3 as a pro-apoptotic molecule in vitro. These pro-apoptotic properties, however, do not correlate with several studies linking high IGFBP-3 levels in breast cancer tissue to rapid growth and poor prognosis. Evidence is emerging that IGFBP-3 also exhibits pro-survival and growth-promoting properties in vitro. How IGFBP-3 pivots cell fate to either death or survival, it seems, comes down to a complex interplay between cells' microenvironments and the presence of cellular IGFBP-3 binding partners and growth factor receptors. The cytoprotective actions of IGFBP-3 are not restricted to cancer but are also observed in other disease states, such as retinopathy and brain ischaemia. Here we review the literature on this paradoxical nature of IGFBP-3, its pro-apoptotic and growth-inhibitory actions versus its cytoprotective and growth-potentiating properties, and discuss the implications of targeting IGFBP-3 for treatment of disease.