Epithelia are protected from adverse conditions by a mucous barrier. The secreted and transmembrane mucins that constitute the mucous barrier are largely unrecognized as effectors of carcinogenesis. However, both types of mucins are intimately involved in inflammation and cancer. Moreover, diverse human malignancies overexpress transmembrane mucins to exploit their role in signalling cell growth and survival. Mucins have thus been identified as markers of adverse prognosis and as attractive therapeutic targets. Notably, the findings that certain transmembrane mucins induce transformation and promote tumour progression have provided the experimental basis for demonstrating that inhibitors of their function are effective as anti-tumour agents in preclinical models.