The Role of Cancer Stem Cells in Colorectal Cancer: From the Basics to Novel Clinical Trials

Céline Hervieu,  Niki Christou, Serge Battu, Muriel Mathonnet

  • EA 3842 CAPTuR “Control of Cell Activation in Tumor Progression and Therapeutic Resistance”, Faculty of Medicine, Genomics, Environment, Immunity, Health and Therapeutics (GEIST) Institute, University of Limoges, 87025 Limoges CEDEX, France.
  • Department of General, Endocrine and Digestive Surgery, University Hospital of Limoges, 87025 Limoges CEDEX, France.


The treatment options available for colorectal cancer (CRC) have increased over the years and have significantly improved the overall survival of CRC patients. However, the response rate for CRC patients with metastatic disease remains low and decreases with subsequent lines of therapy. The clinical management of patients with metastatic CRC (mCRC) presents a unique challenge in balancing the benefits and harms while considering disease progression, treatment-related toxicities, drug resistance and the patient’s overall quality of life. Despite the initial success of therapy, the development of drug resistance can lead to therapy failure and relapse in cancer patients, which can be attributed to the cancer stem cells (CSCs). Thus, colorectal CSCs (CCSCs) contribute to therapy resistance but also to tumor initiation and metastasis development, making them attractive potential targets for the treatment of CRC. This review presents the available CCSC isolation methods, the clinical relevance of these CCSCs, the mechanisms of drug resistance associated with CCSCs and the ongoing clinical trials targeting these CCSCs. Novel therapeutic strategies are needed to effectively eradicate both tumor growth and metastasis, while taking into account the tumor microenvironment (TME) which plays a key role in tumor cell plasticity.