Perturbations in the composition and assembly of extracellular matrices (ECM) contribute to progression of numerous diseases, including cancers. Anchoring of laminins at the cell surface enables assembly and signaling of many ECMs, but the possible contributions of altered laminin anchoring to cancer progression remain undetermined. In this study, we investigated the prominence and origins of defective laminin anchoring in cancer cells and its association with cancer subtypes and clinical outcomes. We found loss of laminin anchoring to be widespread in cancer cells. Perturbation of laminin anchoring originated from several distinct defects, which all led to dysfunctional glycosylation of the ECM receptor dystroglycan. In aggressive breast and brain cancers, defective laminin anchoring was often due to suppressed expression of the glycosyltransferase LARGE. Reduced expression of LARGE characterized a broad array of human tumors in which it was associated with aggressive cancer subtypes and poor clinical outcomes. Notably, this defect robustly predicted poor survival in patients with brain cancers. Restoring LARGE expression repaired anchoring of exogenous and endogenous laminin and modulated cell proliferation and tumor growth. Together, our findings suggest that defects in laminin anchoring occur commonly in cancer cells, are characteristic of aggressive cancer subtypes, and are important drivers of disease progression.