Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynecological malignancy. It is typically diagnosed at advanced stages of the disease, with metastatic sites disseminated widely within the abdominal cavity. Ovarian cancer treatment is challenging due to high disease recurrence and further complicated pursuant to acquired chemoresistance. Cancer stem cell (CSC) theory proposes that both tumor development and progression are driven by undifferentiated stem cells capable of self-renewal and tumor-initiation. The most recent evidence revealed that CSCs in terms of ovarian cancer are not only responsible for primary tumor growth, metastasis and relapse of disease, but also for the development of chemoresistance. As the elimination of this cell population is critical for increasing treatment success, a deeper understanding of ovarian CSCs pathobiology, including epithelial-mesenchymal transition, signaling pathways and tumor microenvironment, is needed. Finally, before introducing new therapeutic agents for ovarian cancer, targeting CSCs, accurate identification of different ovarian stem cell subpopulations, including the very small embryonic-like stem cells suggested as progenitors, is necessary. To these ends, reliable markers of ovarian CSCs should be identified. In this review, we present the current knowledge and a critical discussion concerning ovarian CSCs and their clinical role.
Keywords: Cancer stem cells; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Ovarian cancer; Very small embryonic-like stem cells.