Invasive tumors (cancers or malignant lesions) typically develop in the setting in which there is the presence of putative non-invasive lesions and the development of these non-invasive lesions frequently precedes the development of cancers. For some organs, such as the oral cavity, cervix and skin, the respective putative pre-invasive lesions can be observed over time and documented to progress to invasive lesions. However, for less readily observable lesions, such as those of the prostate, the progression of the pre-invasive lesions, e. g. , prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN) and prostatic proliferative inflammatory atrophy (PIA) to prostatic cancer are more difficult to document. Thus, for most organ systems, specific pre-invasive neoplastic lesions have been proposed based upon the apparent observations of one or more of the following: 1) microinvasive disease developing from a pre-invasive neoplastic lesion, 2) the general association of the pre-invasive lesion with invasive lesions, 3) the subsequent development of invasive lesions following diagnosis of the pre-invasive lesion, 4) correlations of the molecular features of the putative pre-invasive lesion with the matching invasive lesions, and 5) reductions in the rate of cancer following removal of the pre-invasive lesion. When there are mixtures of pre-invasive lesions with actual cancers in the same case, some of the above specific associations are more difficult to make. Several terms have been used to describe pre-invasive lesions, many of which are now less useful as our knowledge of these lesions increases. It is now commonly accepted that these lesions are a features of the spectrum of neoplastic development and most are accepted as "neoplastic lesions" with associated molecular features, even though they may be reversible even if they have mutations in suppressor genes (e. g. , p53) or are associated with viral etiologies (e. g. , cervical intraepithelial neoplasia). The overall term, "pre-invasive neoplasia", seems to best describe these putative pre-invasive lesions. Thus, terms such as incipient neoplasia should be abandoned. The term "intra-epithelial neoplasia" with an associated grade, which has been developed for pre-invasive neoplastic lesions of the cervix, i. e. cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), seems to be a terminology that adds consistency across epithelial organs. Thus, adoption of these terms for the additional organ sites of pancreas (PanIN) and prostate (PIN) seems accepted. Less descriptive terms such as the degrees of dysplasia of the oral cavity and bronchopulmonary system and actinic keratosis and Bowen's disease of the skin might be better designated as oral intraepithelial neoplasia (OIN), pulmonary intraepithelial neoplasia (PulIN) and dermal intraepithelial neoplasia (DIN). The etiology of pre-invasive neoplasia is the etiology of the matching cancers. Some obvious initiating factors include exposure to the whole range of ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, tobacco abuse and a broad range of other carcinogens (e. g. , benzene). A frequent initiation factor is the setting of long standing continuing damage, inflammation and repair (LOCDIR) which leads to early molecular features associated with neoplasia after about one year. An excellent example of this is ulcerative colitis (UC) in which dysregulation of microsatellite repair enzymes have been documented one year following diagnosis of UC. While the nomenclature, description, diagnosis and etiology of pre-invasive neoplasia has advanced, approaches to therapy of such lesions have not progressed adequately even though it has been identified that, for example, removal of polyps periodically from the colorectum, DCIS from the breast, and high grade CIN from the cervix, results in a reduction in the development of cancers of the colorectum, breast, and cervix, respectively. With the development of more molecularly targeted therapy with fewer side effects, preventive therapies may be more successfully targeted to pre-invasive neoplastic lesions. © 2011 - IOS Press and the authors. All rights reserved.