The pivotal role of cancer stem cells (CSCs) in the initiation and progression of malignancies has been rigorously validated, and the specific methods for identifying and isolating the CSCs from the parental cancer population have also been rapidly developed in recent years. This review aims to provide an overview of recent research progress of Chinese medicines (CMs) and their active compounds in inhibiting tumor progression by targeting CSCs. A great deal of CMs and their active compounds, such as Antrodia camphorate, berberine, resveratrol, and curcumin have been shown to regress CSCs, in terms of reversing drug resistance, inducing cell death and inhibiting cell proliferation as well as metastasis. Furthermore, one of the active compounds in coptis, berbamine may inhibit tumor progression by modulating microRNAs to regulate CSCs. The underlying molecular mechanisms and related signaling pathways involved in these processes were also discussed and concluded in this paper. Overall, the use of CMs and their active compounds may be a promising therapeutic strategy to eradicate cancer by targeting CSCs. However, further studies are needed to clarify the potential of clinical application of CMs and their active compounds as complementary and alternative therapy in this field.
Keywords: Chinese medicines; cancer stem cells; molecular targets.