Loss of polarity and disruption of cell junctions are common features of epithelial-derived cancer cells, and mounting evidence indicates that such defects have a direct function in the pathology of cancer. Supporting this idea, results with several different human tumor viruses indicate that their oncogenic potential depends in part on a common ability to inactivate key cell polarity proteins. For example, adenovirus (Ad) type 9 is unique among human Ads by causing exclusively estrogen-dependent mammary tumors in experimental animals and in having E4 region-encoded open reading frame 1 (E4-ORF1) as its primary oncogenic determinant. The 125-residue E4-ORF1 protein consists of two separate protein-interaction elements, one of which defines a PDZ domain-binding motif (PBM) required for E4-ORF1 to induce both cellular transformation in vitro and tumorigenesis in vivo. Most notably, the E4-ORF1 PBM mediates interactions with a selected group of cellular PDZ proteins, three of which include the cell polarity proteins Dlg1, PATJ and ZO-2. Data further indicate that these interactions promote disruption of cell junctions and a loss of cell polarity. In addition, one or more of the E4-ORF1-interacting cell polarity proteins, as well as the cell polarity protein Scribble, are common targets for the high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) E6 or human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) Tax oncoproteins. Underscoring the significance of these observations, in humans, high-risk HPV and HTLV-1 are causative agents for cervical cancer and adult T-cell leukemia, respectively. Consequently, human tumor viruses should serve as powerful tools for deciphering mechanisms whereby disruption of cell junctions and loss of cell polarity contribute to the development of many human cancers. This review article discusses evidence supporting this hypothesis, with an emphasis on the human Ad E4-ORF1 oncoprotein.