Metastasis is a complex non-stochastic process that is most likely the result of genetic and epigenetic interactions of a wide variety of genes. The search for a single gene which can encompass such a pleiotropic response as to account for the observed phenotypic characteristics of metastatic tumour populations has been unsuccessful. Particular studies involving gene transfection, subtractive hybridisation and cell fusion are beginning to identify specific genes which contribute to metastasis in some cell types. However, such analyses are complicated by the inherent genetic instability and phenotypic heterogeneity present in tumour populations. A more detailed understanding of the metastatic process may require an abandoning of current generalised approaches to metastasis in favour of concentrating on key components of the metastatic cascade such as adhesion and invasion.