A growing body of evidence supports the notion that malignant tumors are heterogeneous and contain diverse subpopulations of cells with unique characteristics including the ability to initiate a tumor and metastasize. This phenomenon might be explained by the so-called cancer stem cell (CSC) theory. Recent technological developments have allowed a deeper understanding and characterization of CSCs. Even though the application of this theory to hematopoietic malignancies and solid tumors holds promise for new ways to treat cancer, it also brings some skepticism. Efficacious therapeutic approaches targeting the CSC population should be explored to overcome therapeutic failure and improve patient outcomes. This review will focus on the intrinsic and extrinsic regulation of CSCs, as well as the development of therapeutic approaches against CSCs, predominantly focusing on gastrointestinal malignancies.
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