Several reports have demonstrated that tumours are not intrinsically resistant to the immune response. However, neoplasias commonly fail to initiate and maintain adequate immunity. A number of factors have been implicated in causing the failure, including aberrant antigen processing by tumour cells, anergy or deletion of T cells, and recruitment of inhibitory/regulatory cell types. It has been suggested that dysfunction of dendritic cells (DC) induced by the tumour is one of the critical mechanisms to escape immune surveillance. As a minor subset of leucocytes, DC are the key APC for initiating immune responses. DC are poised at the boundaries of the periphery and the inner tissues, sampling antigens of diverse origin. Following their encounter with antigen or danger signals, DC migrate to lymph nodes, where they activate effector cells essential for tumour clearance. Although the DC system is highly heterogeneous, the differentiation and function of DC populations is largely regulated by exogenous factors. Malignancies appear to exploit this by producing a plethora of immunosuppressive factors capable of affecting DC, thus exerting systemic effects on immune function. This review examines recent findings on the effects of tumour-derived factors inducing DC dysfunction and in particular examines the findings on alteration of DC differentiation, maturation and longevity as a potent mechanism for immune suppression in cancer.