Antigens of the ABH and Lewis histo-blood group family can be found on many normal cells, mainly of epithelial type. In carcinomas, altered expression of the various carbohydrate epitopes of this family occur, and are often strongly associated with either a good or bad prognosis. A review of the available data on these tumor-associated markers, their biosynthesis and their prognostic value is proposed here. For a long time it has been unclear whether their presence could affect the behavior of carcinoma cells. Recent data, however, indicate that they play biological roles in the course of tumor progression. The presence of sialyl-Lea or sialyl-Lex, which are ligands for selectins, promotes the metastatic process by facilitating interaction with the endothelium of distant organs. The loss of A and B antigens increases cellular motility, while the presence of H epitopes increases resistance to apoptosis by mechanisms that remain to be defined. The Ley antigen has procoagulant and angiogenic activities. All these observations are used to present a model that may account for the described associations between the presence or loss of these markers and the outcome of disease. Finally, their potential clinical applications as tumor-associated markers or as targets of immunotherapy are reviewed.