Thousands of unique non-coding RNA (ncRNA) sequences exist within cells. Work from the past decade has altered our perception of ncRNAs from 'junk' transcriptional products to functional regulatory molecules that mediate cellular processes including chromatin remodelling, transcription, post-transcriptional modifications and signal transduction. The networks in which ncRNAs engage can influence numerous molecular targets to drive specific cell biological responses and fates. Consequently, ncRNAs act as key regulators of physiological programmes in developmental and disease contexts. Particularly relevant in cancer, ncRNAs have been identified as oncogenic drivers and tumour suppressors in every major cancer type. Thus, a deeper understanding of the complex networks of interactions that ncRNAs coordinate would provide a unique opportunity to design better therapeutic interventions.