At the stage of carcinoma in situ, the basement membrane (BM) segregates tumor cells from the stroma. This barrier must be breached to allow dissemination of the tumor cells to adjacent tissues. Cancer cells can perforate the BM using proteolysis; however, whether stromal cells play a role in this process remains unknown. Here we show that an abundant stromal cell population, cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), promote cancer cell invasion through the BM. CAFs facilitate the breaching of the BM in a matrix metalloproteinase-independent manner. Instead, CAFs pull, stretch, and soften the BM leading to the formation of gaps through which cancer cells can migrate. By exerting contractile forces, CAFs alter the organization and the physical properties of the BM, making it permissive for cancer cell invasion. Blocking the ability of stromal cells to exert mechanical forces on the BM could therefore represent a new therapeutic strategy against aggressive tumors.Stromal cells play various roles in tumor establishment and metastasis. Here the authors, using an ex-vivo model, show that cancer-associated fibroblasts facilitate colon cancer cells invasion in a matrix metalloproteinase-independent manner, likely by pulling and stretching the basement membrane to form gaps.