Cellular senescence, a permanent state of cell cycle arrest accompanied by a complex phenotype, is an essential mechanism that limits tumorigenesis and tissue damage. In physiological conditions, senescent cells can be removed by the immune system, facilitating tumor suppression and wound healing. However, as we age, senescent cells accumulate in tissues, either because an aging immune system fails to remove them, the rate of senescent cell formation is elevated, or both. If senescent cells persist in tissues, they have the potential to paradoxically promote pathological conditions. Cellular senescence is associated with an enhanced pro-survival phenotype, which most likely promotes persistence of senescent cells in vivo. This phenotype may have evolved to favor facilitation of a short-term wound healing, followed by the elimination of senescent cells by the immune system. In this review, we provide a perspective on the triggers, mechanisms and physiological as well as pathological consequences of senescent cells.