Neutrophils in cancer carcinogenesis and metastasis

J Hematol Oncol. 2021 Oct 21;14(1):173. doi: 10.1186/s13045-021-01187-y.


In recent years, neutrophils have attracted increasing attention because of their cancer-promoting effects. An elevated neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio is considered a prognostic indicator for patients with cancer. Neutrophils are no longer regarded as innate immune cells with a single function, let alone bystanders in the pathological process of cancer. Their diversity and plasticity are being increasingly recognized. This review summarizes previous studies assessing the roles and mechanisms of neutrophils in cancer initiation, progression, metastasis and relapse. Although the findings are controversial, the fact that neutrophils play a dual role in promoting and suppressing cancer is undeniable. The plasticity of neutrophils allows them to adapt to different cancer microenvironments and exert different effects on cancer. Given the findings from our own research, we propose a reasonable hypothesis that neutrophils may be reprogrammed into a cancer-promoting state in the cancer microenvironment. This new perspective indicates that neutrophil reprogramming in the course of cancer treatment is a problem worthy of attention. Preventing or reversing the reprogramming of neutrophils may be a potential strategy for adjuvant cancer therapy.

Keywords: Cancer; Cell plasticity; Cell reprogramming; Microenvironment; Neutrophil.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogenesis / immunology
  • Carcinogenesis / pathology
  • Cellular Reprogramming
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / immunology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / immunology
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neutrophils / immunology
  • Neutrophils / pathology*
  • Tumor Microenvironment