Cancer stem cells
Frank, Natasha Y. Division of Genetics, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.
Frank, Markus H. Transplantation Research Center, Children’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.
Last reviewed:January 2021
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- Analysis of cancer stem cells
- Comparison of cancer stem cells and normal stem cells
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
Cells within a tumor that possess the capacity to self-renew and cause the heterogeneous lineages of cancerous cells that comprise the tumor. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) typically represent a small percentage of all cells in a tumor (rarely more than 1–3%). However, they are responsible for the regeneration of malignant cells, allowing the cancer to grow. In general, the CSC concept posits that malignant tumors, like many healthy tissues, can be hierarchically organized at the cellular level and that subpopulations of CSCs, representing the apex of such discernible hierarchies, are exclusively responsible for tumor initiation and propagation. Hierarchical tumor organization denotes the concept that only tumor-initiating CSCs within cancers possess the capacity for generating further tumor-propagating CSC progeny, whereas more differentiated bulk populations of tumor cells with limited replicative potential, also derived from CSCs through asymmetric cell division, do not give rise to CSCs and are not capable of indefinite tumor propagation. According to the CSC model of tumor growth and progression, a CSC is thus defined as a cancer cell that possesses (1) a capacity for prolonged self-renewal that inexorably drives tumor growth and (2) a capacity for differentiation, that is, the production of heterogeneous lineages of daughter cells that represent the bulk of the tumor mass, but are dispensable for tumor propagation (Fig. 1). Consequently, CSCs are thought by proponents of the CSC concept to lie at the root of primary tumor formation and growth and to be also responsible for tumor dissemination, metastasis formation, therapeutic resistance, and posttreatment recurrence. The rapidly expanding interest in CSCs in the field of oncology is based on the exceptional promise of CSCs as paradigm-shifting novel targets for cancer therapy. See also: Cancer; Cancer cell metabolism; Cell (biology); Cell differentiation; Cell lineage; Oncology; Stem cells; Tumor
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