The canonical Wnt/β-catenin pathway is an ancient and evolutionarily conserved signaling pathway that is required for the proper development of all metazoans, from the basal demosponge Amphimedon queenslandica to humans. Misregulation of Wnt signaling is implicated in many human diseases, making this pathway an intense area of research in industry as well as academia. In this review, we explore our current understanding of the molecular steps involved in the transduction of a Wnt signal. We will focus on how the critical Wnt pathway component, β-catenin, is in a "futile cycle" of constant synthesis and degradation and how this cycle is disrupted upon pathway activation. We describe the role of the Wnt pathway in major human cancers and in the control of stem cell self-renewal in the developing organism and in adults. Finally, we describe well-accepted criteria that have been proposed as evidence for the involvement of a molecule in regulating the canonical Wnt pathway.