Mononuclear phagocytes are amongst the most versatile cells of the body, contributing to tissue genesis and homeostasis and safeguarding the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory reactions. Accordingly, these cells are notoriously heterogeneous, functioning in distinct differentiation forms (monocytes, MDSC, macrophages, DC) and adopting different activation states in response to a changing microenvironment. Accumulating evidence exists that mononuclear phagocytes contribute to all phases of the cancer process. These cells orchestrate the inflammatory events during de novo carcinogenesis, participate in tumor immunosurveillance, and contribute to the progression of established tumors. At the tumor site, cells such as tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) are confronted with different tumor microenvironments, leading to TAM subsets with specialized functions. A better refinement of the molecular and functional heterogeneity of tumor-associated mononuclear phagocytes might pave the way for novel cancer therapies that directly target these tumor-supporting cells.
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