Standard Article

Cancer Stem Cells

  1. C Cobaleda1,
  2. C Vicente-Dueñas2,
  3. I Romero-Camarero2,
  4. I Sánchez-García2

Published Online: 15 JAN 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020860.pub2



How to Cite

Cobaleda, C., Vicente-Dueñas, C., Romero-Camarero, I. and Sánchez-García, I. 2012. Cancer Stem Cells. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    CSIC/Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa, c/Nicolás, Cabrera, no 1, Campus de Cantoblanco, Madrid, Spain

  2. 2

    CSIC/Universidad de Salamanca, Experimental Therapeutics and Translational Oncology Program, Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular del Cáncer (IBMCC), Campus Unamuno, Salamanca, Spain

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JAN 2012


Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are the pathological counterpart of normal somatic tissue stem cells. They possess the capacities to self-renew and to generate a more differentiated, rapidly dividing and expanding tumour progeny. Although they constitute just a small percentage of the tumour mass, they are responsible for its maintenance and, therefore, they should be the target of anticancer treatments. The existence of CSCs is still a matter of controversy for certain tumour types – some of which are actually frequent and clinically relevant – but it is confirmed in many others. Moreover, CSCs are predictably genetically diverse, and their frequency and phenotype can vary in the course of the disease. However, CSCs have nowadays been identified in almost all the frequent types of tumours, and recent findings have shown that CSC gene expression signatures can be predictive of adverse clinical outcome, therefore maintaining the study of CSCs at the forefront of cancer research.

Key Concepts:

  • Not all the cells within the tumour are equally capable of regenerating the tumour, either in transplantation experiments or in patient's relapse after surgery and treatment.

  • Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are the only cells within the tumour with the capacity to maintain and regenerate the tumour, and are responsible for cancer relapse.

  • Tumours are therefore stem cell-maintained tissues, like many other tissues in the organism.

  • Understanding the biology of CSCs, their origin, evolution and molecular characteristics, should help us to design CSC-specific therapies that should complement current anticancer treatments, mainly aimed at the reduction of the tumour mass composed, for the most part, of nonself-renewing cells.


  • stem cells;
  • cancer;
  • solid tumours;
  • leukaemia;
  • mouse models