Controlled degradation of the extracellular matrix (ECM) is crucial for the growth, invasive capacity, metastasis and angiogenesis of tumours. Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), a family of zinc-dependent neutral endopeptidases that are collectively capable of degrading essentially all ECM components, apparently play an important role in all of these aspects of tumour development. In addition, there is recent evidence that MMPs are also important for tumour cell survival. At present, therapeutic intervention on tumour growth and invasion based on the inhibition of MMP activity is under intensive investigation, and several MMP inhibitors are already being used on malignant tumours of various organs in clinical trials. In this review we discuss the role of MMPs and their inhibitors in tumour invasion as a basis for prognostic purposes and for targeted therapeutic intervention in cancer.