T cells have the capacity to eradicate diseased cells, but tumours present considerable challenges that render T cells ineffectual. Cancer cells often make themselves almost 'invisible' to the immune system, and they sculpt a microenvironment that suppresses T cell activity, survival and migration. Genetic engineering of T cells can be used therapeutically to overcome these challenges. T cells can be taken from the blood of cancer patients and then modified with genes encoding receptors that recognize cancer-specific antigens. Additional genes can be used to enable resistance to immunosuppression, to extend survival and to facilitate the penetration of engineered T cells into tumours. Using genetic modification, highly active, self-propagating 'slayers' of cancer cells can be generated.