Cancer stem cells (CSC) were postulated to exist many years ago as cells within a tumor that regenerate the tumor following treatment. A stochastic clonal evolution model was used to explain observed tumor heterogeneity. Recently, xenotransplantation studies have demonstrated that prospectively identifiable subpopulations from human cancers can initiate tumors in immune deficient mice, and these results along with recent advances in stem cell biology have generated much excitement in the cancer field. The modern CSC theory posits a hierarchy of cells analogous to normal stem cell development. Some controversy remains, however, as to whether these tumor initiating cells truly represent CSC, and whether the modern CSC field can live up to the promise of providing improved cancer treatments based on a novel model of cancer biology. Recent data from CSC investigators are discussed critically. J. Cell. Biochem. 106: 745–749, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.