Rapidly dividing and invasive cancer cells are strongly dependent on effective lysosomal function. Accordingly, transformation and cancer progression are characterized by dramatic changes in lysosomal volume, composition and cellular distribution. Depending on one's point of view, the cancer-associated changes in the lysosomal compartment can be regarded as friends or foes. Most of them are clearly transforming as they promote invasive growth, angiogenesis and drug resistance. The same changes can, however, strongly sensitize cells to lysosomal membrane permeabilization and thereby to lysosome-targeting anti-cancer drugs. In this review we compile our current knowledge on cancer-associated changes in lysosomal composition and discuss the consequences of these alterations to cancer progression and the possibilities they can bring to cancer therapy.Oncogene advance online publication, 9 July 2012; doi:10.1038/onc.2012.292.