The immense majority of genes are alternatively spliced and there are many isoforms specifically associated with cancer progression and metastasis. The splicing pattern of specific isoforms of numerous genes is altered as cells move through the oncogenic process of gaining proliferative capacity, acquiring angiogenic, invasive, antiapoptotic and survival properties, becoming free from growth factor dependence and growth suppression, altering their metabolism to cope with hypoxia, enabling them to acquire mechanisms of immune escape, and as they move through the epithelial-mesenchymal and mesenchymal-epithelial transitions and metastasis. Each of the 'hallmarks of cancer' is associated with a switch in splicing, towards a more aggressive invasive cancer phenotype. The choice of isoforms is regulated by several factors (signaling molecules, kinases, splicing factors) currently being identified systematically by a number of high-throughput, independent and unbiased methodologies. Splicing factors are de-regulated in cancer, and in some cases are themselves oncogenes or pseudo-oncogenes and can contribute to positive feedback loops driving cancer progression. Tumour progression may therefore be associated with a coordinated splicing control, meaning that there is the potential for a relatively small number of splice factors or their regulators to drive multiple oncogenic processes. The understanding of how splicing contributes to the various phenotypic traits acquired by tumours as they progress and metastasise, and in particular how alternative splicing is coordinated, can and is leading to the development of a new class of anticancer therapeutics-the alternative-splicing inhibitors.Oncogene advance online publication, 16 December 2013; doi:10.1038/onc.2013.533.