MHC class I antigens play a crucial role in the interaction of tumor cells with the host immune system, in particular, in the presentation of peptides as tumor-associated antigens to cytotoxic lymphocytes (CTLs) and in the regulation of cytolytic activity of natural killer (NK) cells. In this review we discuss the role of MHC class I antigens in the recognition and elimination of transformed cells and in the generation of tumor immune escape routes when MHC class I losses occur in tumors. The different altered MHC class I phenotypes and their distribution in different human tumors are the main topic of this review. In addition, molecular defects that underlie MHC alterations in transformed cells are also described in detail. Future research directions in this field are also discussed, including the laboratory analysis of tumor MHC class I-negative variants and the possible restoration of MHC class I expression.