Mathematical modelling approaches have become increasingly abundant in cancer research. The complexity of cancer is well suited to quantitative approaches as it provides challenges and opportunities for new developments. In turn, mathematical modelling contributes to cancer research by helping to elucidate mechanisms and by providing quantitative predictions that can be validated. The recent expansion of quantitative models addresses many questions regarding tumour initiation, progression and metastases as well as intra-tumour heterogeneity, treatment responses and resistance. Mathematical models can complement experimental and clinical studies, but also challenge current paradigms, redefine our understanding of mechanisms driving tumorigenesis and shape future research in cancer biology.