The paired-box (PAX) genes encode a family of nine well-characterized paired-box transcription factors, with important roles in development and disease. Although PAX genes are primarily expressed in the embryo, constitutive expression promotes tissue hyperplasia. Rare tumor-specific mutations of PAX genes implicate an oncogenic role, and persistent PAX expression characterizes several tumors. Yet, a cancer-wide analysis of PAX gene expression to investigate a general role for PAX genes has not been performed. We analysed the pattern and requirement for PAX gene expression in a panel of common cancer cell lines. Very frequent PAX gene expression was identified in tumor cell lines, including lymphoma, breast, ovarian, lung, and colon cancer. In addition, the PAX2 gene was frequently expressed in a panel of 406 common primary tumor tissues. Apoptosis was rapidly induced in ovarian and bladder cancer cell lines following RNA interference to silence PAX2 expression, despite concomitant TP53 and/or HRAS mutations. These data suggest that PAX genes are frequently expressed in cancer, and that endogenous PAX gene expression is required for the growth and survival of cancer cells.