Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascades are key signalling pathways that regulate a wide variety of cellular processes, including proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis and stress responses. The MAPK pathway includes three main kinases, MAPK kinase kinase, MAPK kinase and MAPK, which activate and phosphorylate downstream proteins. The extracellular signal-regulated kinases ERK1 and ERK2 are evolutionarily conserved, ubiquitous serine-threonine kinases that regulate cellular signalling under both normal and pathological conditions. ERK expression is critical for development and their hyperactivation plays a major role in cancer development and progression. The Ras/Raf/MAPK (MEK)/ERK pathway is the most important signalling cascade among all MAPK signal transduction pathways, and plays a crucial role in the survival and development of tumour cells. The present review discusses recent studies on Ras and ERK pathway members. With respect to processes downstream of ERK activation, the role of ERK in tumour proliferation, invasion and metastasis is highlighted, and the role of the ERK/MAPK signalling pathway in tumour extracellular matrix degradation and tumour angiogenesis is emphasised.