Tyrosine phosphorylation is an important signalling mechanism in eukaryotic cells. In cancer, oncogenic activation of tyrosine kinases is a common feature, and novel anticancer drugs have been introduced that target these enzymes. Tyrosine phosphorylation is also controlled by protein-tyrosine phosphatases (PTPs). Recent evidence has shown that PTPs can function as tumour suppressors. In addition, some PTPs, including SHP2, positively regulate the signalling of growth-factor receptors, and can be oncogenic. An improved understanding of how these enzymes function and how they are regulated might aid the development of new anticancer agents.