Many normal biological processes, such as reproduction, fetal development and wound healing, are critically dependent on controlled degradation of extracellular matrix (ECM) macromolecules. However, excessive degradation of matrix components occurs in pathologic tissue destruction, e.g. in atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer. Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are degradative enzymes that play an important role in all aspects of tumor progression by enhancing tumor-induced angiogenesis and destroying local tissue architecture and basement membranes to allow tumor invasion and metastasis. Efficient breakdown of the ECM surrounding invasive cancer islands involves interplay between tumor cells, stromal cells, and inflammatory cells, all of which express a distinct set of MMPs. Besides the classical role of MMPs in degradation of ECM, MMPs may also indirectly influence the tumor microenvironment through the release of growth factors, cryptic sites or angiogenic factors, or through the generation of matrix fragments that inhibit tumor cell proliferation, migration and angiogenesis. This makes the contribution of MMPs to tumorigenesis much more complex than initially thought. Currently, a number of clinical studies have focused on testing MMP inhibitors as potential antineoplastic agents. In this review we discuss the present role of MMPs in the development and progression of cancer, focusing on non-melanoma skin cancers basal (BCC) and squamous (SCC) cell carcinoma, and the possible influence of MMPs in their differences.