The Abelson (ABL) family of nonreceptor tyrosine kinases, ABL1 and ABL2, transduces diverse extracellular signals to protein networks that control proliferation, survival, migration and invasion. ABL1 was first identified as an oncogene required for the development of leukaemias initiated by retroviruses or chromosome translocations. The demonstration that small-molecule ABL kinase inhibitors could effectively treat chronic myeloid leukaemia opened the door to the era of targeted cancer therapies. Recent reports have uncovered roles for ABL kinases in solid tumours. Enhanced ABL expression and activation in some solid tumours, together with altered cell polarity, invasion or growth induced by activated ABL kinases, suggest that drugs targeting these kinases may be useful for treating selected solid tumours.