Despite advances in treatment, cancer remains the 2nd most common cause of death in the United States. Poor cure rates may result from the ability of cancer to recur and spread after initial therapies have seemingly eliminated detectable signs of disease. A growing body of evidence supports a role for cancer stem cells (CSCs) in tumor regrowth and spread after initial treatment. Thus, targeting CSCs in combination with traditional induction therapies may improve treatment outcomes and survival rates. Unfortunately, CSCs tend to be resistant to chemo- and radiation therapy, and a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying CSC resistance to treatment is necessary. This paper provides an update on evidence that supports a fundamental role for CSCs in cancer progression, summarizes potential mechanisms of CSC resistance to treatment, and discusses classes of drugs currently in preclinical or clinical testing that show promise at targeting CSCs.
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