A variety of adoptive cellular strategies, aimed at boosting the immune system, have been tested in the management of metastatic diseases. Despite the drawbacks associated with ex vivo cell manipulation and upscaling, several such approaches have been assessed in the clinic. The use of lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells, autolymphocyte therapy (ALT) and tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) have been the best studied and further trials are ongoing. Thus far, these approaches have not consistently shown benefit when compared to standard immune-based treatment with biologic response modifiers, notably, high-dose interleukin-2 (IL-2). More recently, it has been shown, in various animal models, that the ex vivo transfer of genes to cells of the immune system can have a dramatic impact on cancer immunotherapy. The application of gene transfer techniques to immunotherapy has animated the field of cell-based cancer therapy research. A wide variety of viral and non-viral gene transfer methods have been investigated in this context. Ex vivo strategies include gene delivery into tumor cells and into cellular components of the immune system, including cytotoxic T cells, NK, macrophages and dendritic cells (DC). Several of these approaches have already been translated into cancer therapy clinical trials. In this review, we focus on the rationale and types of ex vivo gene-based immunotherapy of cancer. Finally, the use of genetically modified DC for tumor vaccination and its prospects are discussed.