Emerging evidence suggests the existence of a tumorigenic population of cancer cells that demonstrate stem cell-like properties such as self-renewal and multipotency. These cells, termed cancer stem cells (CSC), are able to both initiate and maintain tumor formation and progression. Studies have shown that CSC are resistant to traditional chemotherapy treatments preventing complete eradication of the tumor cell population. Following treatment, CSC are able to re-initiate tumor growth leading to patient relapse. Salivary gland cancers are relatively rare but constitute a highly significant public health issue due to the lack of effective treatments. In particular, patients with mucoepidermoid carcinoma or adenoid cystic carcinoma, the two most common salivary malignancies, have low long-term survival rates due to the lack of response to current therapies. Considering the role of CSC in resistance to therapy in other tumor types, it is possible that this unique sub-population of cells is involved in resistance of salivary gland tumors to treatment. Characterization of CSC can lead to better understanding of the pathobiology of salivary gland malignancies as well as to the development of more effective therapies. Here, we make a brief overview of the state-of-the-science in salivary gland cancer, and discuss possible implications of the cancer stem cell hypothesis to the treatment of salivary gland malignancies.
Keywords: Adenoid cystic carcinoma; Chemoresistance; Mucoepidermoid carcinoma; Perivascular niche; Tumor initiating cells.
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