The role of the complement system in cancer

J Clin Invest. 2017 Mar 1;127(3):780-789. doi: 10.1172/JCI90962. Epub 2017 Mar 1.


In addition to being a component of innate immunity and an ancient defense mechanism against invading pathogens, complement activation also participates in the adaptive immune response, inflammation, hemostasis, embryogenesis, and organ repair and development. Activation of the complement system via classical, lectin, or alternative pathways generates anaphylatoxins (C3a and C5a) and membrane attack complex (C5b-9) and opsonizes targeted cells. Complement activation end products and their receptors mediate cell-cell interactions that regulate several biological functions in the extravascular tissue. Signaling of anaphylatoxin receptors or assembly of membrane attack complex promotes cell dedifferentiation, proliferation, and migration in addition to reducing apoptosis. As a result, complement activation in the tumor microenvironment enhances tumor growth and increases metastasis. In this Review, I discuss immune and nonimmune functions of complement proteins and the tumor-promoting effect of complement activation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Cell Communication / immunology*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Complement Pathway, Alternative / immunology*
  • Complement Pathway, Classical / immunology*
  • Complement System Proteins / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Signal Transduction / immunology*


  • Complement System Proteins