The renin-angiotensin system (RAS) is usually associated with its systemic action on cardiovascular homoeostasis. However, recent studies suggest that at a local tissue level, the RAS influences tumour growth. The potential of the RAS as a target for cancer treatment and the suggested underlying mechanisms of its paracrine effects are reviewed here. These include modulation of angiogenesis, cellular proliferation, immune responses and extracellular matrix formation. Knowledge of the RAS has increased dramatically in recent years with the discovery of new enzymes, peptides and feedback mechanisms. The local RAS appears to influence tumour growth and metastases and there is evidence of tissue- and tumour-specific differences. Recent experimental studies provide strong evidence that drugs that inhibit the RAS have the potential to reduce cancer risk or retard tumour growth and metastases. Manipulation of the RAS may, therefore, provide a safe and inexpensive anticancer strategy.