SUMOylation is a reversible post-translational modification which has emerged as a crucial molecular regulatory mechanism, involved in the regulation of DNA damage repair, immune responses, carcinogenesis, cell cycle progression and apoptosis. Four SUMO isoforms have been identified, which are SUMO1, SUMO2/3 and SUMO4. The small ubiquitin-like modifier (SUMO) pathway is conserved in all eukaryotes and plays pivotal roles in the regulation of gene expression, cellular signaling and the maintenance of genomic integrity. The SUMO catalytic cycle includes maturation, activation, conjugation, ligation and de-modification. The dysregulation of the SUMO system is associated with a number of diseases, particularly cancer. SUMOylation is widely involved in carcinogenesis, DNA damage response, cancer cell proliferation, metastasis and apoptosis. SUMO can be used as a potential therapeutic target for cancer. In this review, we briefly outline the basic concepts of the SUMO system and summarize the involvement of SUMO proteins in cancer cells in order to better understand the role of SUMO in human disease.