Cancers arise from stem cells in adult tissues and the cells that make up a cancer reflect the same stem cell → progeny → differentiation progression observed in normal tissues. All adult tissues are made up of lineages of cells consisting of tissue stem cells and their progeny (transit-amplifying cells and terminally differentiated cells); the number of new cells produced in normal tissue lineages roughly equals the number of old cells that die. Cancers result from maturation arrest of this process, resulting in continued proliferation of cells and a failure to differentiate and die. The biological behavior, morphological appearance, and clinical course of a cancer depend on the stage of maturation at which the genetic lesion is activated. This review makes a comparison of cancer cells to embryonic stem cells and to adult tis sue stem cells while addressing two basic questions: (1) Where do cancers come from?, and (2) How do cancers grow? The answers to these questions are critical to the development of approaches to the detection, prevention, and treatment of cancer.
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