Since their discovery as key mediators of cytokine signaling, considerable progress has been made in defining the structure-function relationships of Signal Transducers and Activators of Transcription (STATs). In addition to their central roles in normal cell signaling, recent studies have demonstrated that diverse oncoproteins can activate specific STATs (particularly Stat3 and Stat5) and that constitutively-activated STAT signaling directly contributes to oncogenesis. Furthermore, extensive surveys of primary tumors and cell lines derived from tumors indicate that inappropriate activation of specific STATs occurs with surprisingly high frequency in a wide variety of human cancers. Together, these findings provide compelling evidence that aberrant STAT activation associated with oncogenesis is not merely adventitious but instead contributes to the process of malignant transformation. These studies are beginning to reveal the molecular mechanisms leading to STAT activation in the context of oncogenesis, and candidate genes regulated by STATs that may contribute to oncogenesis are being identified. Recent studies suggest that activated STAT signaling participates in oncogenesis by stimulating cell proliferation and preventing apoptosis. This review presents the evidence for critical roles of STATs in oncogenesis and discusses the potential for development of novel cancer therapies based on mechanistic understanding of STAT signaling. Oncogene (2000).