There has been much recent progress in our understanding of the role played by the RAS-RAF-MEK-ERK cascade in human cancer. RAS is an oncogene and this pathway is known to promote proliferation and malignant transformation. More recently, however, RAF has become the focus of attention, particularly in melanoma, where approximately 70% of cases carry mutations in the BRAF gene. The majority of the mutations in BRAF in cancer are activating, but rare mutants that cannot activate MEK have provided new insight into RAF signalling networks that exist in cancer and normal cells. Surprisingly, germline mutations in BRAF that occur in rare genetic syndromes have also recently been described. The induction of BRAF mutations in melanoma depends on the type of UV exposure that the skin receives, and some studies have suggested the existence of susceptibility loci that make it more likely that some individuals will acquire these mutations. Importantly, genetic profiling and microarray studies have provided insight into the spectrum of melanomas in which BRAF plays a role and also revealed intriguing new data that could be important for the diagnosis and treatment of human cancers.