The discovery of cell-free microRNAs (miRNAs) in serum, plasma and other body fluids has yielded an invaluable potential source of non-invasive biomarkers for cancer and other non-malignant diseases. miRNAs in the blood and other body fluids are highly stable in biological samples and are resistant to environmental conditions, such as freezing, thawing or enzymatic degradation, which makes them convenient as potential biomarkers. In addition, they are more easily sampled than tissue miRNAs. Altered levels of cell-free miRNAs have been found in every type of cancer analysed, and increasing evidence indicates that they may participate in carcinogenesis by acting as cell-to-cell signalling molecules. This review summarizes the biological characteristics and mechanisms of release of cell-free miRNAs that make them promising candidates as non-invasive biomarkers of cancer.