Targeting Cancer Stem Cells with Phytochemicals

  1. Brian T. Kawasaki,
  2. Elaine M. Hurt,
  3. Tashan Mistree and
  4. William L. Farrar
  1. Cancer Stem Cell Section, Laboratory of Cancer Prevention, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute–Frederick, National Institutes of Health, Frederick, MD 21702


Cancer, second only to heart disease, is the leading cause of death in the US. Although progress has been made in the early detection of cancer and in improvements of cancer therapies, the ability to provide long-term survival has been limited. Increasing evidence suggests that a minute, biologically unique population of cancer stem cells (SCs) exists in most neoplasms and may be responsible for tumor initiation, progression, metastasis, and relapse. Characterization of cancer SCs has led to the identification of key cellular activities that may make cancer SCs vulnerable to therapeutic interventions that target drug-effluxing capabilities, stem cell pathways, anti-apoptotic mechanisms, and induction of differentiation. Phytochemicals, compounds made from fruits, vegetables, and grains, possess anti-cancer properties and represent a promising therapeutic approach for the prevention and treatment of many cancers. This review summarizes the evidence for the cancer SC hypothesis and discusses the potential mechanisms by which phytochemicals might target cancer SCs.


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