Significance: Reactive oxygen species (ROS), byproducts of aerobic metabolism, are increased in many types of cancer cells. Increased endogenous ROS lead to adaptive changes and may play pivotal roles in tumorigenesis, metastasis, and resistance to radiation and chemotherapy. In contrast, the ROS generated by xenobiotics disturb the redox balance and may selectively kill cancer cells but spare normal cells.
Recent advances: Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are integral parts of pathophysiological mechanisms of tumor progression, metastasis, and chemo/radio resistance. Currently, intracellular ROS in CSCs is an active field of research.
Critical issues: Normal stem cells such as hematopoietic stem cells reside in niches characterized by hypoxia and low ROS, both of which are critical for maintaining the potential for self-renewal and stemness. However, the roles of ROS in CSCs remain poorly understood.
Future directions: Based on the regulation of ROS levels in normal stem cells and CSCs, future research may evaluate the potential therapeutic application of ROS elevation by exogenous xenobiotics to eliminate CSCs.