Lymphatic metastases are an important indicator of the malignancy of epithelial cancers. Empirical clinical observations associating specific genetic abnormalities with tumour progression, allied with basic laboratory investigations, are providing not only improved prognostic and diagnostic opportunities, but also a detailed understanding of the molecular machinery of metastasis. One such association--between the c-erbB oncogene family and metastasis--has proved particularly instructive. Functional links between over-expression (and occasionally mutational activation) of c-erbB-1 (EGFR) and c-erbB-2 and specific phenotypes of metastatic cells have been elucidated. Activated c-erbB oncogenes potentiate tumour cell adhesion to endothelial cells and upregulate VEGF, potentially facilitating angiogenesis and vascular invasion. In addition, cells over-expressing these oncogenes frequently show aberrant cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions, mediated by changes in integrin and cadherin function. Thirdly, both EGFR and c-erbB-2 signalling can significantly upregulate specific matrix metalloproteinases, key enzymes involved in angiogenesis and invasion. Finally, c-erbB receptors linked to the actin cytoskeleton and highly expressed on invadopodia, are thought to assist cell migration. Taken together, these observations suggest that such receptors can act as "master switches" in metastasis, whose activation co-ordinately controls events normally utilised in development, now subverted by the metastatic cell. As such, they represent ideal targets for therapeutic intervention.