The cell-biological program termed the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) plays an important role in both development and cancer progression. Depending on the contextual signals and intracellular gene circuits of a particular cell, this program can drive fully epithelial cells to enter into a series of phenotypic states arrayed along the epithelial-mesenchymal phenotypic axis. These cell states display distinctive cellular characteristics, including stemness, invasiveness, drug-resistance and the ability to form metastases at distant organs, and thereby contribute to cancer metastasis and relapse. Currently we still lack a coherent overview of the molecular and biochemical mechanisms inducing cells to enter various states along the epithelial-mesenchymal phenotypic spectrum. An improved understanding of the dynamic and plastic nature of the EMT program has the potential to yield novel therapies targeting this cellular program that may aid in the management of high-grade malignancies.