Tumor-associated macrophages in breast cancer as potential biomarkers for new treatments and diagnostics

Expert Rev Mol Diagn. 2011 Jan;11(1):91-100. doi: 10.1586/erm.10.97.


While several inflammatory cell types participate in cancer development, macrophages specifically play a key role in breast cancer, where they appear to be part of the pathogenesis of high-grade tumors. Tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) produce factors that promote angiogenesis, remodel tissue and dampen the immune response to tumors. Specific macrophage types contribute to increased metastases in animal models, while human studies show an association between TAMs and tumors with poor prognostic features. Macrophages display a spectrum of phenotypic states, with the tumor microenvironment skewing TAMs towards a 'nonclassical' activation state, known as the M2, or wound healing/regulatory state. These TAMs are found in high-risk breast cancers, making them an important therapeutic target to explore. Improved techniques for identifying TAMs should translate into clinical applications for prognosis and treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / biosynthesis
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / immunology
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Movement
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Macrophages / physiology*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Metastasis


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Cytokines