Cysteine and serine proteases are involved in cancer invasion and metastasis. In the past few years we investigated the tissue levels of these proteases in gastric cancer (GC), gastric precancerous changes (CAG), colorectal cancer (CRC) and the plasma and serum levels of proteases in several gastrointestinal tumours, using ELISA methods. Significantly higher antigen levels were found not only in GC tissue but also in CAG with respect to the levels found normal tissue; with respect to CAG, patients with dysplasia had higher levels than patients without dysplasia. The same findings were obtained in CRC. In general protease levels correlated with the major histomorphological parameters, such as grading and histotype in GC as well as in CRC. Tissue protease levels had a strong prognostic impact in GC, in which UPA was singled out by multivariate analysis as the major prognostic factor, and CRC. The plasma levels of urokinase-type plasminogen activator (UPA) and the serum levels of cathepsin B were significantly increased in patients with gastrointestinal tumours. In conclusions, cysteine and serine proteases may have a part not only in GC and CRC invasion and metastasis, but also in the progression of gastric precancerous changes into cancer. They are strong prognostic factors in GC and CRC. These proteases may also have a role as tumour markers in the early diagnosis of gastrointestinal tract tumours.