Objectives: This review surveys trialed therapies and molecular defects in adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC), with an emphasis on neural crest-like stemness characteristics of newly discovered cancer stem cells (CSCs) and therapies that may target these CSCs.
Data sources: Articles available on Pubmed or OVID MEDLINE databases and unpublished data.
Review methods: Systematic review of articles pertaining to ACC and neural crest-like stem cells.
Results: Adenoid cystic carcinoma of the salivary gland is a slowly growing but relentless cancer that is prone to nerve invasion and metastases. A lack of understanding of molecular etiology and absence of targetable drivers has limited therapy for patients with ACC to surgery and radiation. Currently, no curative treatments are available for patients with metastatic disease, which highlights the need for effective new therapies. Research in this area has been inhibited by the lack of validated cell lines and a paucity of clinically useful markers. The ACC research environment has recently improved, thanks to the introduction of novel tools, technologies, approaches, and models. Improved understanding of ACC suggests that neural crest-like stemness is a major target in this rare tumor. New cell culture techniques and patient-derived xenografts provide tools for preclinical testing.
Conclusion: Preclinical research has not identified effective targets in ACC, as confirmed by the large number of failed clinical trials. New molecular data suggest that drivers of neural crest-like stemness may be required for maintenance of ACC; as such, CSCs are a target for therapy of ACC.