Although vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) induces angiogenesis, it also disrupts vascular barrier function in diseased tissues. Accordingly, VEGF expression in cancer and ischaemic disease has unexpected pathophysiological consequences. By uncoupling endothelial cell-cell junctions VEGF causes vascular permeability and oedema, resulting in extensive injury to ischaemic tissues after stroke or myocardial infarction. In cancer, VEGF-mediated disruption of the vascular barrier may potentiate tumour cell extravasation, leading to widespread metastatic disease. Therefore, by blocking the vascular permeability promoting effects of VEGF it may be feasible to reduce tissue injury after ischaemic disease and minimize the invasive properties of circulating tumour cells.