Tumours express a range of antigens, including self-antigens. Regulatory T cells are crucial for maintaining T-cell tolerance to self-antigens. Regulatory T cells are thought to dampen T-cell immunity to tumour-associated antigens and to be the main obstacle tempering successful immunotherapy and active vaccination. In this Review, I consider the nature and characteristics of regulatory T cells in the tumour microenvironment and their potential multiple suppressive mechanisms. Strategies for therapeutic targeting of regulatory T cells and the effect of regulatory T cells on current immunotherapeutic and vaccine regimens are discussed.