Cancer stem cells: implications for cancer therapy

Shaheenah Dawood, Laura Austin, Massimo Cristofanilli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

192 Scopus citations


The survival of patients with cancer has improved significantly, primarily because of multidisciplinary care, improved chemotherapeutic agents in both the adjuvant and metastatic settings, the introduction of targeted biologic agents, and the incorporation of palliative care services into the management scheme. However, despite these advances, a significant proportion of patients continue to experience recurrence after adjuvant treatment, and survival associated with stage IV solid tumors still remains low. A primary or acquired resistance to chemotherapeutic and biologic agents is responsible for the failure of many of the agents used to treat patients with a malignancy. This can be explained by the presence of intratumoral heterogeneity and the molecular complexity of many cancers. Factors contributing to intratumoral heterogeneity include genetic mutations, interactions with the microenvironment-and the presence of cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells have been identified in a number of solid tumors, including breast cancer, brain tumors, lung cancer, colon cancer, and melanoma. Cancer stem cells have the capacity to self-renew, to give rise to progeny that are different from them, and to utilize common signaling pathways. Cancer stem cells may be the source of all the tumor cells present in a malignant tumor, the reason for the resistance to the chemotherapeutic agent used to treat the malignant tumor, and the source of cells that give rise to distant metastases. This review will focus on properties of cancer stem cells; will compare and contrast the cancer stem cell model with the clonal evolution model of tumorigenesis; will discuss the role of cancer stem cells in the development of resistance to chemotherapy; and will review the therapeutic implications and challenges of targeting cancer stem cells, with an assessment of the potential such an approach holds for improving outcomes for patients with cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalOncology (Williston Park, N.Y.)
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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