Solid tumors arise in organs that contain stem cell populations. The tumors in these tissues consist of heterogeneous populations of cancer cells that differ markedly in their ability to proliferate and form new tumors. In both breast cancers and central nervous system tumors, cancer cells differ in their ability to form tumors. While the majority of the cancer cells have a limited ability to divide, a population of cancer stem cells that has the exclusive ability to extensively proliferate and form new tumors can be identified based on marker expression. Growing evidence suggests that pathways that regulate the self-renewal of normal stem cells are deregulated in cancer stem cells resulting in the continuous expansion of self-renewing cancer cells and tumor formation. This suggests that agents that target the defective self-renewal pathways in cancer cells might lead to improved outcomes in the treatment of these diseases.