Fanconi anaemia (FA) is a genetic disorder that is characterized by bone marrow failure (BMF), developmental abnormalities and predisposition to cancer. Together with other proteins involved in DNA repair processes and cell division, the FA proteins maintain genome homeostasis, and germline mutation of any one of the genes that encode FA proteins causes FA. Monoallelic inactivation of some FA genes, such as FA complementation group D1 (FANCD1; also known as the breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene BRCA2), leads to adult-onset cancer predisposition but does not cause FA, and somatic mutations in FA genes occur in cancers in the general population. Carcinogenesis resulting from a dysregulated FA pathway is multifaceted, as FA proteins monitor multiple complementary genome-surveillance checkpoints throughout interphase, where monoubiquitylation of the FANCD2-FANCI heterodimer by the FA core complex promotes recruitment of DNA repair effectors to chromatin lesions to resolve DNA damage and mitosis. In this Review, we discuss how the FA pathway safeguards genome integrity throughout the cell cycle and show how studies of FA have revealed opportunities to develop rational therapeutics for this genetic disease and for malignancies that acquire somatic mutations within the FA pathway.