One of the functions of macrophages is to provide a defense mechanism against tumor cells. In the last decades the mechanism of tumor cell killing by macrophages have been studied extensively. The tumor cytotoxic function of macrophages requires stimulation either with bacterial cell wall products such as lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or muramyldipeptide (MDP) or with cytokines such as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF). Activated macrophages secrete several substances that are directly involved in tumor cell killing i.e. tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and nitric oxide (NO). On the other hand, substances are secreted that are able to stimulate tumor cell growth, depending on the stage and the nature of the tumor. Several clinical trials have been performed aiming at the activation of macrophages or dendritic cells, a subpopulation of the macrophages. In this review we will summarize and discuss experimental studies and clinical trials based on the activation of macrophages.