© 2016 Couchman JR et al. A small group of cell surface receptors are proteoglycans, possessing a core protein with one or more covalently attached glycosaminoglycan chains. They are virtually ubiquitous and their chains are major sites at which protein ligands of many types interact. These proteoglycans can signal and regulate important cell processes, such as adhesion, migration, proliferation, and differentiation. Since many protein ligands, such as growth factors, morphogens, and cytokines, are also implicated in tumour progression, it is increasingly apparent that cell surface proteoglycans impact tumour cell behaviour. Here, we review some recent advances, emphasising that many tumour-related functions of proteoglycans are revealed only after their modification in processes subsequent to synthesis and export to the cell surface. These include enzymes that modify heparan sulphate structure, recycling of whole or fragmented proteoglycans into exosomes that can be paracrine effectors or biomarkers, and lateral interactions between some proteoglycans and calcium channels that impact the actin cytoskeleton.