Overview of Cancer Stem Cells and Stemness for Community Oncologists

Target Oncol. 2017 Aug;12(4):387-399. doi: 10.1007/s11523-017-0508-3.


Advances in cancer research in the past have led to an evolving understanding of cancer pathogenesis and the development of novel drugs that significantly improve patient outcomes. However, many patients still encounter treatment resistance, recurrence, or metastasis and eventually die from progressing disease. Experimental evidence indicates that a subpopulation of cancer cells, called cancer stem cells (CSCs), possess "stemness" properties similar to normal stem cells, including self-renewal, differentiation, and proliferative potential. These stemness properties are lost during differentiation and are governed by pathways such as STAT3, NANOG, NOTCH, WNT, and HEDGEHOG, which are highly dysregulated in CSCs due to genetic and epigenetic changes. Promising results have been observed in preclinical models targeting these CSCs through the disruption of stemness pathways in combination with current treatment modalities. This has led to anti-CSC-based clinical trials in multiple stages of development. In this review, we discuss the role of CSCs and stemness pathways in cancer treatment and how they relate to clinical observations. Because CSCs and the stemness pathways governing them may explain the negative clinical outcomes observed during treatment, it is important for oncologists to understand how they contribute to cancer progression and how they may be targeted to improve patient outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Oncologists
  • Signal Transduction