The role of tumor-associated macrophages in breast cancer progression (review)

Int J Oncol. 2013 Jul;43(1):5-12. doi: 10.3892/ijo.2013.1938. Epub 2013 May 14.


It is well established that the tumor microenvironment plays a major role in the aggressive behavior of malignant solid tumors. Among cell types associated with tumor microenvironment, tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) are the most influential for tumor progression. Breast cancer is characterized by having a large population of TAMs, and experimental models have exposed multiple mechanisms by which TAMs interact with and influence the surrounding tumor cells. The process of metastasis involves tumor cells gaining access to the tissue outside the immediate tumor environment and invading the confining extracellular matrix (ECM). Supporting this process, TAMs secrete proangiogenic factors such as VEGF to build a network of vessels that provide nutrition for tumor cells, but also function as channels of transport into the ECM. Additionally, TAMs release factors to decrease the local pro-inflammatory antitumor response, suppressing it and providing a means of escape of the tumor cells. Similarly, hypoxia in the tumor microenvironment stimulates macrophages to further produce VEGF and suppress the T-cell immune responses, thus, enhancing the evasion of tumor cells and ultimately metastasis. Given the multiple roles of TAMS in breast cancer progression and metastasis, therapies targeting these cells are in development and demonstrate promising results.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / pathology
  • Tumor Microenvironment*
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism*


  • VEGFA protein, human
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A