Long-term clinical outcomes are dependent on whether carcinoma cells leave the primary tumor site and invade through adjacent tissue. Recent evidence links tissue rigidity to alterations in cancer cell phenotype and tumor progression. We found that rigid extracellular matrix (ECM) substrates promote invasiveness of tumor cells via increased activity of invadopodia, subcellular protrusions with associated ECM-degrading proteinases. Although the subcellular mechanism by which substrate rigidity promotes invadopodia function remains to be determined, force sensing does appear to occur through myosin-based contractility and the mechanosensing proteins FAK and p130(Cas). In addition to rigidity, a number of ECM characteristics may regulate the ability of cells to invade through tissues, including matrix density and crosslinking. 3-D biological hydrogels based on type I collagen and reconstituted basement membrane are commonly used to study invasive behavior; however, these models lack some of the tissue-specific properties found in vivo. Thus, new in vitro organotypic and synthetic polymer ECM substrate models will be useful to either mimic the properties of specific ECM microenvironments encountered by invading cancer cells or to manipulate ECM substrate properties and independently test the role of rigidity, integrin ligands, pore size and proteolytic activity in cancer invasion of various tissues.