Disease relapse in cancer patients many years after clinical remission, often referred to as cancer dormancy, is well documented but remains an incompletely understood phenomenon on the biologic level. Recent reviews have summarized potential models that can explain this phenomenon, including angiogenic, immunologic, and cellular dormancy. We focus on mechanisms of cellular dormancy as newer biologic insights have enabled better understanding of this process. We provide a historical context, synthesize current advances in the field, and propose a mechanistic framework that treats cancer cell dormancy as a dynamic cell state conferring a fitness advantage to an evolving malignancy under stress. Cellular dormancy appears to be an active process that can be toggled through a variety of signaling mechanisms that ultimately downregulate the RAS/MAPK and PI(3)K/AKT pathways, an ability that is preserved even in cancers that constitutively depend on these pathways for their growth and survival. Just as unbridled proliferation is a key hallmark of cancer, the ability of cancer cells to become quiescent may be critical to evolving malignancies, with implications for understanding cancer initiation, progression, and treatment resistance.