Stem Cell Origin of Cancer: Clinical Implications for Cancer Immunity and Immunotherapy

Cancers (Basel). 2023 Nov 13;15(22):5385. doi: 10.3390/cancers15225385.


A simple way to understand the immune system is to separate the self from non-self. If it is self, the immune system tolerates and spares. If it is non-self, the immune system attacks and destroys. Consequently, if cancer has a stem cell origin and is a stem cell disease, we have a serious problem and a major dilemma with immunotherapy. Because many refractory cancers are more self than non-self, immunotherapy may become an uphill battle and pyrrhic victory in cancer care. In this article, we elucidate cancer immunity. We demonstrate for whom, with what, as well as when and how to apply immunotherapy in cancer care. We illustrate that a stem cell theory of cancer affects our perspectives and narratives of cancer. Without a pertinent theory about cancer's origin and nature, we may unwittingly perform misdirected cancer research and prescribe misguided cancer treatments. In the ongoing saga of immunotherapy, we are at a critical juncture. Because of the allure and promises of immunotherapy, we will be treating more patients not immediately threatened by their cancer. They may have more to lose than to gain, if we have a misconception and if we are on a wrong mission with immunotherapy. According to the stem cell theory of cancer, we should be careful with immunotherapy. When we do not know or realize that cancer originates from a stem cell and has stem-ness capabilities, we may cause more harm than good in some patients and fail to separate the truth from the myth about immunotherapy in cancer care.

Keywords: autoimmunity; cancer stem cell; cancer vaccine; heterogeneity; hyper-progression; immunotherapy; microbiome; microenvironment.

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.