Targeting Cancer Stem Cells by Dietary Agents: An Important Therapeutic Strategy against Human Malignancies

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Oct 28;22(21):11669. doi: 10.3390/ijms222111669.


As a multifactorial disease, treatment of cancer depends on understanding unique mechanisms involved in its progression. The cancer stem cells (CSCs) are responsible for tumor stemness and by enhancing colony formation, proliferation as well as metastasis, and these cells can also mediate resistance to therapy. Furthermore, the presence of CSCs leads to cancer recurrence and therefore their complete eradication can have immense therapeutic benefits. The present review focuses on targeting CSCs by natural products in cancer therapy. The growth and colony formation capacities of CSCs have been reported can be attenuated by the dietary agents. These compounds can induce apoptosis in CSCs and reduce tumor migration and invasion via EMT inhibition. A variety of molecular pathways including STAT3, Wnt/β-catenin, Sonic Hedgehog, Gli1 and NF-κB undergo down-regulation by dietary agents in suppressing CSC features. Upon exposure to natural agents, a significant decrease occurs in levels of CSC markers including CD44, CD133, ALDH1, Oct4 and Nanog to impair cancer stemness. Furthermore, CSC suppression by dietary agents can enhance sensitivity of tumors to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In addition to in vitro studies, as well as experiments on the different preclinical models have shown capacity of natural products in suppressing cancer stemness. Furthermore, use of nanostructures for improving therapeutic impact of dietary agents is recommended to rapidly translate preclinical findings for clinical use.

Keywords: cancer stem cells; cancer treatment; drug resistance; medicinal herbs; metastasis; proliferation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / diet therapy*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells*
  • Phytochemicals / therapeutic use*
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use*


  • Phytochemicals
  • Plant Extracts