Most cancers arise in epithelia, the tissue type that lines all body cavities. The organization of epithelia enables them to act as a barrier and perform vectorial transport of molecules between body compartments. Crucial for their organization and function is a highly specialized network of cell adhesion and polarity proteins aligned along the apical-basal axis. Comparing breast and intestinal tissue as examples of common cancer sites, reveals an important contribution of polarity proteins to the initiation and progression of cancer. Defects in polarity are induced directly by mutations in polarity proteins, but also indirectly by changes in the expression of specific microRNAs and altered transcriptional programs that drive cellular differentiation from epithelial to more mesenchymal characteristics. The latter is particularly important in the metastatic process.