The cancer stem cell (CSC) concept was proposed four decades ago, and states that tumor growth, analogous to the renewal of healthy tissues, is fueled by small numbers of dedicated stem cells. It has gradually become clear that many tumors harbor CSCs in dedicated niches, and yet their identification and eradication has not been as obvious as was initially hoped. Recently developed lineage-tracing and cell-ablation strategies have provided insights into CSC plasticity, quiescence, renewal, and therapeutic response. Here we discuss new developments in the CSC field in relationship to changing insights into how normal stem cells maintain healthy tissues. Expectations in the field have become more realistic, and now, the first successes of therapies based on the CSC concept are emerging.