Are breast cancer stem cells the key to resolving clinical issues in breast cancer therapy?
Despite the dramatic advances in breast cancer treatment over the past two decades, it is still the most common malignancies in women. One of the reasons patients succumb to breast cancer is treatment resistance leading to metastasis and recurrence. Recently, cancer stem cells (CSCs) have been suggested as a cause of metastasis and recurrence in several cancers because of their unique characteristics, including self-renewal, pluripotency, and high proliferative ability. Increasing evidence has implicated breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs) as essential for tumor development, progression, recurrence, and treatment resistance. BCSCs exhibit resistance to treatment owing to several inter-related factors, including overexpression of ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporters and increased aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) activity, DNA repair, and reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavenging. In addition, the Notch, Hedgehog, and Wnt signaling pathways have been suggested as the major pathways involved in the self-renewal and differentiation of BCSCs. Despite growing evidence suggesting the importance of BCSCs in progression and metastasis, clear criteria for the identification of BCSCs in clinical practice have yet to be established. Several potential markers have been suggested, including CD44+/CD24−/low, ALDH1, EpCAM/ESA, and nestin; however, there is no standard method to detect BCSCs. Triple-negative breast cancer, which shows initial chemosensitivity, demonstrates worsened prognosis due to therapy resistance, which might be related to the presence of BCSCs. Several clinical trials aimed at the identification of BCSCs or the development of BCSC-targeted therapy are in progress. Determining the clinical relevance of BCSCs may provide clues for overcoming therapy resistance in breast cancer.