Implications of cancer stem cell theory for cancer chemoprevention by natural dietary compounds

J Nutr Biochem. 2011 Sep;22(9):799-806. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2010.11.001. Epub 2011 Feb 4.


The emergence of cancer stem cell theory has profound implications for cancer chemoprevention and therapy. Cancer stem cells give rise to the tumor bulk through continuous self-renewal and differentiation. Understanding the mechanisms that regulate self-renewal is of greatest importance for discovery of anticancer drugs targeting cancer stem cells. Naturally occurring dietary compounds have received increasing attention in cancer chemoprevention. The anticancer effects of many dietary components have been reported for both in vitro and in vivo studies. Recently, a number of studies have found that several dietary compounds can directly or indirectly affect cancer stem cell self-renewal pathways. Herein we review the current knowledge of most common natural dietary compounds for their impact on self-renewal pathways and potential effect against cancer stem cells. Three pathways (Wnt/β-catenin, Hedgehog and Notch) are summarized for their functions in self-renewal of cancer stem cells. The dietary compounds, including curcumin, sulforaphane, soy isoflavone, epigallocatechin-3-gallate, resveratrol, lycopene, piperine and vitamin D(3), are discussed for their direct or indirect effect on these self-renewal pathways. Curcumin and piperine have been demonstrated to target breast cancer stem cells. Sulforaphane has been reported to inhibit pancreatic tumor-initiating cells and breast cancer stem cells. These studies provide a basis for preclinical and clinical evaluation of dietary compounds for chemoprevention of cancer stem cells. This may enable us to discover more preventive strategies for cancer management by reducing cancer resistance and recurrence and improving patient survival.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology
  • Benzodioxoles / pharmacology
  • Carotenoids / pharmacology
  • Catechin / analogs & derivatives
  • Catechin / pharmacology
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cholecalciferol / pharmacology
  • Curcumin / pharmacology
  • Diet*
  • Humans
  • Isoflavones / pharmacology
  • Isothiocyanates
  • Lycopene
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology
  • Piperidines / pharmacology
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides / pharmacology
  • Resveratrol
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stilbenes / pharmacology
  • Thiocyanates / pharmacology
  • Wnt Proteins / metabolism
  • beta Catenin / metabolism


  • Alkaloids
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Benzodioxoles
  • Isoflavones
  • Isothiocyanates
  • Piperidines
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Stilbenes
  • Thiocyanates
  • Wnt Proteins
  • beta Catenin
  • Cholecalciferol
  • Carotenoids
  • Catechin
  • epigallocatechin gallate
  • sulforaphane
  • Curcumin
  • Resveratrol
  • Lycopene
  • piperine