Over the past 30 years, a relatively simple growth factor and its cognate receptor have provided seminal insights into the understanding of the genetic basis of cancer, as well as growth factor signalling. The epidermal growth factor (EGF), its cognate receptor (EGFR) and related family members have been shown to be important in normal, as well as the malignant growth of many cell types including: glioblastomata, astrocytomas, medulloblastomata, non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) and breast cancer. This review summarises the history of the EGFR gene and the v-ErbB oncogene, as well as diverse approaches developed to inhibit EGFR activity. The two most advanced therapies use either small-molecule cell membrane permeable kinase inhibitors or antibodies which prevent receptor activation. Recent clinical trials indicate that certain NSCLC patients have mutations in the EGFR gene which makes them more responsive to kinase inhibitors. These mutations appear to enhance the ability of the ligand to activate EGFR activity and also prolong the binding of the EGFR inhibitor to the kinase domain. Evidence to date suggests that these EGFR mutations in NSCLC occur more frequently in Japan than in the western hemisphere. Although these mutations are correlated with enhanced efficacy to the inhibitors in NSCLC, they can not explain or predict the sensitivity of many other cancer patients to the beneficial effects of the EGFR kinase inhibitors or antibody mediated therapy. As with as other small-molecule kinase inhibitors and susceptible diseases (e.g., imatinib and chronic myeloid leukaemia), resistance to EGFR inhibitors has been reported recently, documenting the requirement for development of multi-pronged therapeutic approaches. EGFR kinase inhibitors are also being evaluated as adjuvants in hormonal therapy of breast cancer - especially those which overexpress EGFR. Genetically engineered antibodies specific for the EGFR family member ErbB2 have been developed which show efficacy in the treatment of primary, and prevent the relapse of, breast cancer. Clearly, the EGF/EGFR signalling cascade has, and continues to play, an important role in the development of novel anticancer targeted therapies. © 2005 Ashley Publications Ltd.