Cancer is the subject of intense research around the world, but many questions about how the disease works remain unanswered. How exactly does cancer start and how do tumours grow? In fact, at present there are ten times more anticancer drugs being tested in clinical trials than there were 15 years ago. However, many of the new anticancer agents are predicted to show clinical benefit in only small subpopulations of patients. The cancer stem cell model could explain not only how some cancers work but also why patients suffer relapses, providing a good opportunity to gain insight into the reasons why agents work or, more commonly, don't work, before going into a clinical trial.