Strategies to eliminate cancer stem cells: Clinical implications


      Over the past two decades, major advances in our understanding of cancer have translated into only modest increments in survival for the majority of cancer patients. Recent data suggesting cancers arise from rare self-renewing stem cells that are biologically distinct from their more numerous differentiated progeny may explain this paradox. Current anticancer therapies have been developed to decrease the bulk of the tumour mass (i.e. the differentiated cancer cells). Although treatments directed against the bulk of the cancer may produce dramatic responses, they are unlikely to result in long-term remissions if the rare cancer stem cells are also not targeted. Conversely, treatments that selectively attack cancer stem cells will not immediately eliminate the differentiated cancer cells, and might therefore be prematurely abandoned if clinical activity is judged solely by traditional response criteria that reflect changes in the bulk of the tumour. Re-examining both our pre-clinical and clinical drug development paradigms to include the cancer stem cell concept has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of many cancers.


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