Viruses enter host cells in order to complete their life cycles and have evolved to exploit host cell structures, regulatory factors and mechanisms. The virus and host cell interactions have consequences at multiple levels, spanning from evolution through disease to models and tools for scientific discovery and treatment. Virus-induced human cancers arise after a long duration of time and are monoclonal or oligoclonal in origin. Cancer is therefore a side effect rather than an essential part of viral infections in humans. Still, 15-20% of all human cancers are caused by viruses. A review of tumour virology shows its close integration in cancer research. Viral tools and experimental models have been indispensible for the progress of molecular biology. In particular, retroviruses and DNA tumour viruses have played major roles in our present understanding of the molecular biology of both viruses and the host. Recently, additional complex relationships due to virus and host co-evolution have appeared and may lead to a further understanding of the overall regulation of gene expression programmes in cancer.