Experimental studies performed prior to 1990 led to the widely held belief that matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) produced by cancer cells are of critical importance in tumor invasion and metastasis. Based on this evidence, the pharmaceutical industry produced several well tolerated, orally active MMP inhibitors (MMPIs) which demonstrated efficacy in mouse cancer models. Phase III clinical trials initiated in 1997-98 using marimastat, prinomastat (AG3340), and BAY 12-9566 alone or in combination with standard chemotherapy in patients with advanced cancers (lung, prostate, pancreas, brain, GI tract) have recently been reported; no clinical efficacy was demonstrated. Bayer and Agouron have discontinued their ongoing Phase III drug trials of MMPIs in advanced cancer. In retrospect, the failure of MMPIs to alter disease progression in metastatic cancer might have been anticipated since MMPs appear to be important in early aspects of cancer progression (local invasion and micrometastasis) and may no longer be required once metastases have been established. Our understanding of MMP pathophysiology in cancer has expanded considerably in the past 10 years. Current views indicate that: (1) most MMPs in tumors are made by stromal cells, not carcinoma cells; (2) cancer cells induce stromal cells to synthesize MMPs using extracellular matrix metalloproteinase inducer (EMMPRIN) and cytokine stimulatory mechanisms; and (3) MMPs promote cell migration and the release of growth factors sequestered in the extracellular matrix. MMPs have a dual function in tumor angiogenesis: MMP-2 and MT1-MMP are required in breaking down basement membrane barriers in the early stage of angiogenesis, while other MMPs are involved in the generation of an angiogenic inhibitor, angiostatin. In spite of considerable recent progress in identifying multiple roles of MMPs in disease, our understanding of MMP function in cancer is far from complete (see Table 1). Based on accumulated data, it is recommended that future MMPI trials focus on: (1) patients with early stage cancer; (2) the use of MMPIs along with chemotherapy; (3) the measurement of MMPs in tumor tissue and blood as a means of identifying patients who are more likely to respond to MMPI therapy; and (4) identification of biomarkers that reflect activation or inhibition of MMPs in vivo.