The niche is the environment in which stem cells reside and is responsible for the maintenance of unique stem cell properties such as self-renewal and an undifferentiated state. The heterogeneous populations which constitute a niche include both stem cells and surrounding differentiated cells. This network of heterogeneity is responsible for the control of the necessary pathways that function in determining stem cell fate. The concept that cancer stem cells, a subpopulation of cells responsible for tumor initiation and formation, reside in their own unique niche is quickly evolving and it is of importance to understand and identify the processes occurring within this environment. The necessary intrinsic pathways that are utilized by this cancer stem cell population to maintain both self-renewal and the ability to differentiate are believed to be a result of the environment where cancer stem cells reside. The ability of a specific cancer stem cell niche to provide the environment in which this population can flourish is a critical aspect of cancer biology that mandates intense investigation. This review focuses on current evidence demonstrating that homeostatic processes such as inflammation, epithelial to mesenchymal transition, hypoxia and angiogenesis contribute to the maintenance and control of cancer stem cell fate by providing the appropriate signals within the microenvironment. It is necessary to understand the key processes occurring within this highly specialized cancer stem cell niche to identify potential therapeutic targets that can serve as the basis for development of more effective anticancer treatments.
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