Autophagy is fundamental to the maintenance of intracellular homeostasis in virtually all human cells. Accordingly, defective autophagy predisposes healthy cells to undergoing malignant transformation. By contrast, malignant cells are able to harness autophagy to thrive, despite adverse microenvironmental conditions, and to resist therapeutic challenges. Thus, inhibition of autophagy has been proposed as a strategy to kill cancer cells or sensitize them to therapy; however, autophagy is also critical for optimal immune function, and mediates cell-extrinsic homeostatic effects owing to its central role in danger signalling by neoplastic cells responding to immunogenic chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. In this Perspective, we discuss accumulating preclinical and clinical evidence in support of the all-too-often dismissed possibility that activating autophagy might be a relevant clinical objective that enables an increase in the effectiveness of immunogenic chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.