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On the Stem Cell Origin of Cancer

American Journal Of Pathology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.2353/ajpath.2010.091064
  • Biology
  • Chemistry


In each major theory of the origin of cancer—field theory, chemical carcinogenesis, infection, mutation, or epigenetic change—the tissue stem cell is involved in the generation of cancer. Although the cancer type is identified by the more highly differentiated cells in the cancer cell lineage or hierarchy (transit-amplifying cells), the property of malignancy and the molecular lesion of the cancer exist in the cancer stem cell. In the case of teratocarcinomas, normal germinal stem cells have the potential to become cancers if placed in an environment that allows expression of the cancer phenotype (field theory). In cancers due to chemically induced mutations, viral infections, somatic and inherited mutations, or epigenetic changes, the molecular lesion or infection usually first occurs in the tissue stem cells. Cancer stem cells then give rise to transit-amplifying cells and terminally differentiated cells, similar to what happens in normal tissue renewal. However, the major difference between cancer growth and normal tissue renewal is that whereas normal transit amplifying cells usually differentiate and die, at various levels of differentiation, the cancer transit-amplifying cells fail to differentiate normally and instead accumulate (ie, they undergo maturation arrest), resulting in cancer growth.

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