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Keywords:

  • cancer stem cells;
  • chemoresistance;
  • hepatocellular carcinoma;
  • liver cancer;
  • miRNA;
  • self-renewal;
  • tumor-initiating cells

Abstract

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most commonly diagnosed malignancy of the liver and is the third most frequent cause of cancer death worldwide. Although advances in HCC detection and treatment have increased the likelihood of a cure at early stages of the disease, HCC remains largely incurable because of late presentation and tumor recurrence. Only 25% of HCC patients are deemed suitable for curative treatment, with the overall survival at just a few months for inoperable patients. Additionally, this disease is particularly difficult to treat because of the high recurrence rate, its chemotherapy-resistant nature and the premalignant nature of surrounding cirrhotic liver disease. In the past few years, compelling evidence has emerged in support of the hierarchic cancer stem cell (CSC)/tumor-initiating cell (T-IC) model for solid tumors, including HCC. Understanding the characteristics and function of CSCs in the liver has also shed light on HCC management and treatment, including the implications for prognosis, prediction and treatment resistance. In this review, a detailed summary of the recent progress in liver CSC research with regard to identification, regulation and therapeutic implications will be discussed.