Cancer can be perceived as a disease of communication between and within cells. The aberrations are pleiotropic, but mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways feature prominently. Here, we discuss recent findings and hypotheses on the role of MAPK pathways in cancer. Cancerous mutations in MAPK pathways are frequently mostly affecting Ras and B-Raf in the extracellular signal-regulated kinase pathway. Stress-activated pathways, such as Jun N-terminal kinase and p38, largely seem to counteract malignant transformation. The balance and integration between these signals may widely vary in different tumours, but are important for the outcome and the sensitivity to drug therapy.