Immune responses influence the development and progression of a malignancy. The tumour can also manipulate the immune system to its own ends, often resulting in an ineffective or transient antitumour response. An appreciation of the complexity of these host–tumour interactions is therefore important for the development of more-effective cancer therapies. This article highlights some prominent mechanisms whereby tumours escape recognition and destruction by the host immune system, thus facilitating disease progression. One important consequence of tumour escape is that an antitumour immune response may unintentionally lead to the outgrowth of less immunogenic or more apoptosis-resistant tumour escape variants, which possess enhanced tumourigenic potential. Insights into the molecular mechanisms of cancer evasion and the complexity of the ever-changing interactions between host and tumour will enable a more rational design of antitumour therapies and may help not only explain disease recurrence, but also identify potential targets for therapeutic interventions. This article also offers a brief review of preclinical animal models, which are essential tools in the study of tumour immunology and cancer biology, particularly those that recapitulate the chronic nature of host–tumour interactions and help guide the development and testing of new therapies.