Neutrophils are the most abundant myeloid cells in human blood and are emerging as important regulators of cancer. However, their functional importance has often been overlooked on the basis that they are short-lived, terminally differentiated and non-proliferative. Recent studies of their prominent roles in cancer have led to a paradigm shift in our appreciation of neutrophil functional diversity. This Review describes how neutrophil diversification, which in some contexts can lead to opposing functions, is generated within the tumour microenvironment as well as systemically. We compare neutrophil heterogeneity in cancer and in other pathophysiological contexts to provide an updated overview of our current knowledge of the functions of neutrophils in cancer.