Cancer cell heterogeneity is a universal feature of human tumors and represents a significant barrier to the efficacy and duration of anticancer therapies, especially targeted therapeutics. Among the heterogeneous cancer cell populations is a subpopulation of relatively quiescent cancer cells, which are in the G0/G1 cell-cycle phase and refractory to anti-mitotic drugs that target proliferative cells. These slow-cycling cells (SCCs) preexist in untreated tumors and frequently become enriched in treatment-failed tumors, raising the possibility that these cells may mediate therapy resistance and tumor relapse. Here we review several general concepts on tumor cell heterogeneity, quiescence, and tumor dormancy. We discuss the potential relationship between SCCs and cancer stem cells (CSCs). We also present our current understanding of how SCCs and cancer dormancy might be regulated. Increasing knowledge of SCCs and tumor dormancy should lead to identification of novel molecular regulators and therapeutic targets of tumor relapse, residual diseases, and metastasis.
Keywords: CD44; Cancer stem cell; Cell cycle; Cell-of-origin; LRIG1; Label-retaining cell; Lineage tracing; Plasticity; Progenitor; Prostate cancer; Prostate stem cell; Quiescence; Self-renewal; Slow-cycling cell; TGF-beta; Tumor cell heterogeneity; Tumor dormancy; scRNA-Seq.