When the genes encoding NF-κB subunits were first isolated, their homology to the previously identified c-Rel proto-oncogene and its viral homologue v-Rel was clear. This provided the first indication that these transcription factors also had a role in cancer. Because of its homology to v-Rel, which transforms chicken B cells together with the important role c-Rel can have as a regulator of B- and T-cell proliferation, most attention has focussed on its role in B-cell lymphomas, where the REL gene is frequently amplified. However, a growing number of reports now indicate that c-Rel has important functions in many solid tumours, although studies in mice suggest it may not always function as an oncogene. Moreover, c-Rel is a critical regulator of fibrosis, which provides an environment for tumour development in many settings. Overall, c-Rel is emerging as a complex regulator of tumorigenesis, and there is still much to learn about its functions in human malignancies and the response to cancer therapies.