© 2017 Elsevier Ltd Mitochondria, which are multi-functional, have been implicated in cancer initiation, progression, and metastasis due to metabolic alterations in transformed cells. Mitochondria are involved in the generation of energy, cell growth and differentiation, cellular signaling, cell cycle control, and cell death. To date, the mitochondrial basis of cancer disparities is unknown. The goal of this review is to provide an understanding and a framework of mitochondrial determinants that may contribute to cancer disparities in racially different populations. Due to maternal inheritance and ethnic-based diversity, the mitochondrial genome (mtDNA) contributes to inherited racial disparities. In people of African ancestry, several germline, population-specific haplotype variants in mtDNA as well as depletion of mtDNA have been linked to cancer predisposition and cancer disparities. Indeed, depletion of mtDNA and mutations in mtDNA or nuclear genome (nDNA)-encoded mitochondrial proteins lead to mitochondrial dysfunction and promote resistance to apoptosis, the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, and metastatic disease, all of which can contribute to cancer disparity and tumor aggressiveness related to racial disparities. Ethnic differences at the level of expression or genetic variations in nDNA encoding the mitochondrial proteome, including mitochondria-localized mtDNA replication and repair proteins, miRNA, transcription factors, kinases and phosphatases, and tumor suppressors and oncogenes may underlie susceptibility to high-risk and aggressive cancers found in African population and other ethnicities. The mitochondrial retrograde signaling that alters the expression profile of nuclear genes in response to dysfunctional mitochondria is a mechanism for tumorigenesis. In ethnic populations, differences in mitochondrial function may alter the cross talk between mitochondria and the nucleus at epigenetic and genetic levels, which can also contribute to cancer health disparities. Targeting mitochondrial determinants and mitochondrial retrograde signaling could provide a promising strategy for the development of selective anticancer therapy for dealing with cancer disparities. Further, agents that restore mitochondrial function to optimal levels should permit sensitivity to anticancer agents for the treatment of aggressive tumors that occur in racially diverse populations and hence help in reducing racial disparities.