Genetic analyses have shaped much of our understanding of cancer. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that cancer cells display features of normal tissue organization, where cancer stem cells (CSCs) can drive tumor growth. Although often considered as mutually exclusive models to describe tumor heterogeneity, we propose that the genetic and CSC models of cancer can be harmonized by considering the role of genetic diversity and nongenetic influences in contributing to tumor heterogeneity. We offer an approach to integrating CSCs and cancer genetic data that will guide the field in interpreting past observations and designing future studies.
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