Pancreatic cancer stem cells: features and detection methods

Pathol Oncol Res. 2018 Oct;24(4):797-805. doi: 10.1007/s12253-018-0420-x. Epub 2018 Jun 8.


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is an aggressive malignancy with a high incidence of distant metastasis and recurrence. Cancer stem cells (CSCs), which are pluripotent, self-renewable, and capable of forming tumors, contribute to PDAC initiation and metastasis and are responsible for resistance to chemotherapy and radiation. Three types of experimental methods are commonly used to identify CSCs: CSC-specific marker detection, a sphere-formation assay that reveals cell proliferation under non-adherent conditions, and detection of side-population (SP) cells that possess high intracellular-to-extracellular pump functions. Several CSC-specific markers have been reported in PDACs, including CD133, CD24, CD44, CXCR4, EpCAM, ABCG2, c-Met, ALDH-1, and nestin. There remains controversy regarding which markers are specific to PDAC CSCs and which are expressed alone or in combination in CSCs. Examining characteristics of isolated CSCs and discovering CSC-specific treatment options are important to improve the prognosis of PDAC cases. This review summarizes CSC-detection methods for PDAC, including CSC-marker detection, the sphere-formation assay, and detection of SP cells.

Keywords: Cancer stem cell marker; Cancer stem cell/CSC; Pancreatic cancer; Side population; Sphere.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / pathology*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor

Supplementary concepts

  • Pancreatic Carcinoma