The Cancer Stem Cells (CSC) hypothesis is based on three fundamental ideas: 1) the similarities in the mechanisms that regulate self-renewal of normal stem cells and cancer cells; 2) the possibility that tumour cells might arise from normal stem cells; 3) the notion that tumours might contain ‘cancer stem cells’ - rare cells with indefinite proliferative potential that drive the formation and growth of tumours.
The roles for cancer stem cells have been demonstrated for some cancers, such as cancers of the hematopoietic system, breast, brain, prostate, pancreas and liver.
The attractive idea about cancer stem cell hypothesis is that it could partially explain the concept of minimal residual disease. After surgical macroscopically zero residual (R0) resections, even the persistence of one single cell nestling in one of the so called “CSCs niches” could give rise to distant relapse.
Furthermore the metastatic cells can remain in a “dormant status” and give rise to disease after long period of apparent disease free. These cells in many cases have acquired resistance traits to chemo and radiotherapy making adjuvant treatment vain.
Clarifying the role of the cancer stem cells and their implications in the oncogenesis will play an important role in the management of cancer patient by identifying new prospective for drugs and specific markers to prevent and monitoring relapse and metastasis.
The identification of the niche where the CSCs reside in a dormant status might represent a valid instrument to follow-up patients also after having obtained a R0 surgical resection. What we believe is that if new diagnostic instruments were developed specifically to identify the localization and status of activity of the CSCs during tumor dormancy, this would lead to impressive improvement in the early detection and management of relapse and metastasis.