Inhibitory or stimulatory immune checkpoint molecules are expressed on a sizeable fraction of tumor cells in different tumor types. It was thought that the main function of tumor cell-associated immune checkpoint molecules would be the modulation (down- or upregulation) of antitumor immune responses. In recent years, however, it has become clear that the expression of immune checkpoint molecules on tumor cells has important consequences on the biology of the tumor cells themselves. In particular, a causal relationship between the expression of these molecules and the acquisition of malignant traits has been demonstrated. Thus, immune checkpoint molecules have been shown to promote the epithelial-mesenchymal transition of tumor cells, the acquisition of tumor-initiating potential and resistance to apoptosis and antitumor drugs, as well as the propensity to disseminate and metastasize. Herein, we review this evidence, with a main focus on PD-L1, the most intensively investigated tumor cell-associated immune checkpoint molecule and for which most information is available. Then, we discuss more concisely other tumor cell-associated immune checkpoint molecules that have also been shown to induce the acquisition of malignant traits, such as PD-1, B7-H3, B7-H4, Tim-3, CD70, CD28, CD137, CD40 and CD47. Open questions in this field as well as some therapeutic approaches that can be derived from this knowledge, are also addressed. © 2017 Elsevier B.V.