Emerging evidence from murine models suggests that tumor-specific endocrine factors systemically stimulate the quiescent bone marrow (BM) compartment, resulting in the expansion, mobilization and recruitment of BM progenitor cells. Discrete subsets of tumor-instigated BM-derived progenitor cells support tumor progression and metastasis by regulating angiogenesis, inflammation and immune suppression. Notably, clinical studies have begun to reveal that increased BM recruitment in tumors is associated with poor prognosis. Thus, the BM-derived tumor microenvironment is an attractive therapeutic target, and drugs targeting the components of the microenvironment are currently in clinical trials. Here, we focus on recent advances and emerging concepts regarding the intriguing role of BM-derived cells in tumor growth, metastasis initiation and progression, and we discuss future directions in the context of novel diagnostic and therapeutic opportunities.