The lymphatic vascular system plays an important role in the maintenance of fluid homeostasis, in the afferent immune response, in the intestinal lipid uptake and in the metastatic spread of malignant cells. The recent discovery of specific markers and growth factors for lymphatic endothelium and the establishment of genetic mouse models with impairment of lymphatic function have provided novel insights into the molecular control of the lymphatic system in physiology and in embryonic development. They have also identified molecular pathways whose mutational inactivation leads to human diseases associated with lymphedema. Moreover, the lymphatic system plays a major role in chronic inflammatory diseases and in transplant rejection. Importantly, malignant tumors can directly promote lymphangiogenesis within the primary tumor and in draining lymph nodes, leading to enhanced cancer metastasis to lymph nodes and beyond. Based upon these findings, novel therapeutic strategies are currently being developed that aim at inhibiting or promoting the formation and function of lymphatic vessels in disease.