J Clin Pathol 66:485-490 doi:10.1136/jclinpath-2012-201304
  • Review

Breast cancer stem cells: an update

  1. Puay Hoon Tan
  1. Department of Pathology, Singapore General Hospital, Singapore, Singapore
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jabed Iqbal, Department of Pathology, Singapore General Hospital, One Hospital Drive, Singapore 169608, Singapore; jabed.iqbal{at}
  • Received 25 October 2012
  • Revised 6 December 2012
  • Accepted 10 December 2012
  • Published Online First 15 January 2013


Breast cancer is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in women with a high incidence of recurrence or treatment failure. Growing evidence suggests that cancer stem cells (CSCs) most likely contribute to tumour progression, spread and therapy failure. However, despite extensive research and the tremendous clinical potential of such cells in possible therapeutic management, the real nature of CSCs remains an enigma. In this review, we discuss the fundamental properties and molecular target of CSCs and focus on recent advances regarding the identification of CSC markers with emphasis on breast cancer and the underlying molecular mechanism of CSC phenotypes. We also discuss experimental evidence of targeting molecular pathways in order to modulate breast CSC behaviour in tumourigenesis and the controversies associated with it that potentially weaken the CSC model in breast cancer and other cancers as well.