Cancer cells can use existing blood vessels to acquire a vasculature. This process is termed 'vessel co-option'. Vessel co-option is an alternative to the growth of new blood vessels, or angiogenesis, and is adopted by a wide range of human tumour types growing within numerous tissues. A complementary aspect of this process is extravascular migratory tumour spread using the co-opted blood vessels as a trail. Vessel co-opting tumours can be discriminated from angiogenic tumours by specific morphological features. These features give rise to distinct histopathological growth patterns that reflect the interaction of cancer cells with the microenvironment of the organ in which they thrive. We will discuss the histopathological growth patterns of vessel co-option in the brain, the liver and the lungs. The review will also highlight evidence for the potential clinical value of the histopathological growth patterns of cancer. Vessel co-option can affect patient outcomes and resistance to cancer treatment. Insight into the biological drivers of this process of tumour vascularization will yield novel therapeutic strategies.