Cancer is a complex and highly dynamic process. Genetically engineered mouse models (GEMs) that develop cancer are essential systems for dissecting the processes that lead to human cancer. These animal models provide a means to determine the causes of malignancy and to develop new treatments, thus representing a resource of immense potential for medical oncology. The sophistication of modeling cancer in mice has increased to the extent that now we can induce, study and manipulate the cancer disease process in a manner that is impossible to perform in human patients. However, all GEMs described so far have diverse shortcomings in mimicking the hierarchical structure of human cancer tissues. In recent years, a more detailed picture of the cellular and molecular mechanisms determining the formation of cancer has emerged. This Commentary addresses new experimental approaches toward a better understanding of carcinogenesis and discusses the impact of new animal models.