This review summarizes a series of studies demonstrating that heparan sulfate proteoglycans act to promote the growth and metastasis of myeloma and breast tumors, two tumors that home to, and grow within, bone. Much of the growth-promoting effect of proteoglycans in these tumors may reside in the shed form of syndecan-1 that acts to favorably condition the tumor microenvironment. Moreover, the interplay between heparan sulfate and the extracellular enzyme heparanase-1 also has important regulatory implications. Recent studies indicate that the activity of heparanase, which likely releases heparin sulfate-bound growth factors and generates highly active heparan sulfate fragments, also promotes growth and metastasis of myeloma and breast tumors. Understanding the role of heparan sulfate and heparanase in the regulation of tumor behavior may lead to new therapeutic approaches for treating cancer. © 2004 Elsevier B.V./International Society of Matrix Biology. All rights reserved.