The role of tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) in cancer is often correlated with poor prognosis, even though this statement should be interpreted with care, as the effects of macrophages primarily depend on their localization within the tumor. This versatile cell type orchestrates a broad spectrum of biological functions and exerts very complex and even opposing functions on cell death, immune stimulation or suppression, and angiogenesis, resulting in an overall pro- or antitumoral effect. We are only beginning to understand the environmental cues that contribute to transient retention of macrophages in a specific phenotype. It has become clear that hypoxia shapes and induces specific macrophage phenotypes that serve tumor malignancy, as hypoxia promotes immune evasion, angiogenesis, tumor cell survival, and metastatic dissemination. Additionally, TAMs in the hypoxic niches within the tumor are known to mediate resistance to several anticancer treatments and to promote cancer relapse. Thus, a careful characterization and understanding of this macrophage differentiation state is needed in order to efficiently tailor cancer therapy.
Anne-Theres Henze, Massimiliano Mazzone