Mucins represent a family of glycoproteins characterized by repeat domains and a dense O-glycosylation. During the last two decades, the gene and peptide structures of various mucins as well as their glycosylation states were partly elucidated. Characteristic tumor-associated alterations of the expression patterns and glycosylation profiles were observed in biochemical, immunochemical, and histological studies and are discussed in the light of efforts to use the most prominent member in this family, MUC1, as a tumor target in anti-tumor strategies. Within this context the present review, focusing on MUC1, describes recent work on the regulation of mucin biosynthesis by cytokines and hormones, the role of mucins in cell adhesion, and their interaction with the immune system. Important aspects of clinical diagnostics based on mucin antigens are discussed, including the application of tumor serum assays and the significance of numerous studies revealing correlations between the expression of peptide cores or mucin-associated carbohydrates and clinicopathological parameters like tumor progression and prognosis.