Trailblazing perspectives on targeting breast cancer stem cells

Pharmacol Ther. 2021 Jul:223:107800. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2021.107800. Epub 2021 Jan 7.


Breast cancer (BCa) is one of the most prevalent malignant tumors affecting women's health worldwide. The recurrence and metastasis of BCa have made it a long-standing challenge to achieve remission-persistent or disease-undetectable clinical outcomes. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) possess the ability to self-renew and generate heterogeneous tumor bulk. The existence of CSCs has been found to be vital in the initiation, metastasis, therapy resistance, and recurrence of tumors across cancer types. Because CSCs grow slowly in their dormant state, they are insensitive to conventional chemotherapies; however, when CSCs emerge from their dormant state and become clinically evident, they usually acquire genetic traits that make them resistant to existing therapies. Moreover, CSCs also show evidence of acquired drug resistance in synchrony with tumor relapses. The concept of CSCs provides a new treatment strategy for BCa. In this review, we highlight the recent advances in research on breast CSCs and their association with epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), circulating tumor cells (CTCs), plasticity of tumor cells, tumor microenvironment (TME), T-cell modulatory protein PD-L1, and non-coding RNAs. On the basis that CSCs are associated with multiple dysregulated biological processes, we envisage that increased understanding of disease sub-classification, selected combination of conventional treatment, molecular aberration directed therapy, immunotherapy, and CSC targeting/sensitizing strategy might improve the treatment outcome of patients with advanced BCa. We also discuss novel perspectives on new drugs and therapeutics purposing the potent and selective expunging of CSCs.

Keywords: Breast cancer; CAF; Cancer stem cell; Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; Non-coding RNAs; PD-1/PD-L1; Transcription factor; Tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells* / drug effects