Cancerous stem cells: deviant stem cells with cancer-causing misbehavior

Stem Cell Res Ther. 2010 May 20;1(2):13. doi: 10.1186/scrt13.


Stem cells maintain homeostasis in adult tissues via self-renewal and generation of terminally differentiated cells. Alterations in this intricate balance can result in disease. It has become increasingly evident that cancer can be initiated at the level of stem cells. Therefore, understanding what causes stem cells to become cancerous may lead to new therapeutic approaches. Multiple signaling pathways ultimately affect stem cell survival and proliferation, thus maintaining homeostasis in the gut. Changes in these pathways could perturb normal stem cell behavior, leading to cancerous stem cells. In addition, cancerous stem cells show resistance to current therapies and may lead to a dangerous selection process resulting in recurrence and metastasis. Genomic instability, the driving force of mutation and resistance, may give cancerous stem cells an adaptive advantage, especially when subjected to cancer therapies. Targeting the unique characteristics of cancerous stem cells to promote either terminal differentiation or destruction would effectively eradicate cancer and improve patient care and survival.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Survival / genetics
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Genomic Instability / genetics*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / genetics
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / genetics
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / cytology
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Biomarkers, Tumor