As cancer stem cells (SCs) drive tumor growth, it is only through the elimination of those cancer SCs that a pharmacologic cure can be attained. To study ways to develop drugs that target cancer SC, we investigated changes in cellular mechanisms and kinetics that occur in SC populations during colorectal cancer (CRC) development. We used computer modeling to determine which changes could give rise to exponential increases in both SC and non-SC populations in CRC. Our results show that the only mechanism that can explain how these subpopulations increase exponentially in CRC development involves an increase in symmetric SC cell division. This finding suggests that any systemic therapies designed to effectively treat CRC and other cancers must act to control or eliminate symmetrical cancer SC division in tumors, while minimally affecting normal SC division in non-tumor tissues.