The gastrointestinal tract is protected by a mucus barrier with both secreted and cell-surface mucins contributing to the exclusion of luminal microbes and toxins. Alterations in the structure and/or quantity of mucins alter the barrier function of mucus and could play roles in initiating and maintaining mucosal inflammation in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), and in driving cancer development in the intestine. The aim of this review is to focus on the roles of the mucins in IBD. The polymorphisms of mucin genes that have been associated with susceptibility to IBD, and alterations in mucin expression as well as factors that regulate production of the mucins in IBD, are summarized. Data from animal models of intestinal inflammation, which support the importance of mucins in IBD and cancer development, are also discussed.