Proteasome inhibitors are emerging as effective drugs for the treatment of multiple myeloma and possibly certain subtypes of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Bortezomib (Velcade) is the first proteasome inhibitor proven to be clinically useful and will soon be followed by a second generation of small molecule inhibitors with improved pharmacological properties. Although it is now understood that certain types of malignancies have an exquisite dependence on a functional proteasome for their survival, the underlying reason(s) remain unclear as of now. In this context, addiction to nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB)-induced survival signals, activation of the unfolded protein response as well as a reduced proteasomal activity in differentiated plasma cells have all been proposed to justify proteasome inhibitors' activity in susceptible tissues. In addition to their anticancer properties, bortezomib and related drugs modulate inflammatory and immune responses by affecting function and survival of immune cells such as lymphocytes and dendritic cells. The present review offers an overview of the biological effects that have been involved in proteasome inhibitors' antitumor activity and suggests prospective future applications for these drugs based on their recently characterized anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects.