Homeobox genes encode transcription factors that play essential roles in controlling cell growth and differentiation during embryonic development. Many homeobox genes are aberrantly expressed in a wide variety of solid tumours, and their deregulation appears to enhance cell survival and proliferation and to inhibit differentiation. In hematologic malignancies, deregulated homeobox genes profoundly perturb self-renewal and proliferation of hematopoietic stem cells and progenitors. It is increasingly recognised that solid tumours, like hematologic malignancies, could arise from cancer stem cells, and that targeting these cells could be the most effective means of inhibiting tumour progression and disease recurrence. Studying the biological effects and mechanisms of homeobox genes in cancers could provide valuable insights into identifying cancer stem cells and targeting the self-renewal pathways in these cell populations.