The matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are extracellular zinc-enzymes implicated in a number of physiological and pathological tissue remodeling processes, including cancer progression. For a long time they have been thought to be produced by malignant cells and to specifically contribute to tumor invasion, through their ability to degrade extracellular matrix components. However, studies performed over the last few years have demonstrated that extracellular proteinases implicated in the progression of human carcinomas, including most MMPs, are in fact predominantly expressed by stromal and not by cancer cells. Furthermore, membrane receptors, activators and/or binding sites for some of these proteinases are also predominantly found to be associated with stromal cells. These findings, together with the observation that MMPs can cleave some molecules implicated in controlling growth factor activities, suggest that the role of MMPs during cancer progression is not limited to facilitating malignant cell invasion alone but is also likely to participate in other aspects of the malignant phenotype. MMPs should in fact be regarded as pan-regulators of tissue neoformation characteristic of malignant tumors, which includes both epithelial cell expansion and stroma formation. In this context, synthetic MMP inhibitors which are presently designed should lead to the development of a new generation of anticancer agents with additional beneficial properties compared to the existing cytotoxic agents used in the treatment of human malignancies.