The translational control of oncoprotein expression is implicated in many cancers. Here we report an eIF4A/DDX2 RNA helicase-dependent mechanism of translational control that contributes to oncogenesis and underlies the anticancer effects of Silvestrol and related compounds. For example, eIF4A promotes T-ALL development in vivo and is required for leukaemia maintenance. Accordingly, inhibition of eIF4A with Silvestrol has powerful therapeutic effects in vitro and in vivo. We use transcriptome-scale ribosome footprinting to identify the hallmarks of eIF4A-dependent transcripts. These include 5'UTR sequences such as the 12-mer guanine quartet (CGG)4 motif that can form RNA G-quadruplex structures. Notably, among the most eIF4A-dependent and Silvestrol-sensitive transcripts are a number of oncogenes, super-enhancer associated transcription factors, and epigenetic regulators. Hence, the 5'UTRs of selected cancer genes harbour a targetable requirement for the eIF4A RNA helicase. Overall design: Comparison of ribosome-protected RNA for drug treated and DMSO treated KOPT-K1 cell, two replicates of ribosome-protected RNA sequencing and three replicates of RNA-seq.