An intrinsic (oncogene-driven) pathway and an extrinsic (microenvironment-driven) pathway connect inflammatory reactions and cancer. M2-polarized tumor-associated macrophages and the related myeloid-derived suppressor cells are key prototypic components of smoldering inflammation driving neoplastic progression. However, mononuclear phagocytes can exert anti-tumor activity by killing tumor cells and eliciting tissue disruptive reactions (M1), a likely scenario in the early phases of carcinogenesis of immunogenic tumors and following therapeutic intervention. Shifting the macrophage balance represents a viable therapeutic target. Herein, the 'macrophage balance' is discussed in the context of the apparent paradox of tumor promotion by innate immunity-driven inflammation and the seemingly opposed tumor surveillance by adaptive immune responses.