Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is the most common form of head and neck cancer. Annually, more than half a million individuals are diagnosed with this devastating disease, with increasing incidence in Europe and Southeast Asia. The diagnosis of HNSCC often occurs in late stages of the disease and is characterized by manifestation of a high-grade primary tumor and/or lymph node metastasis, precluding timely management of this deadly cancer. Recently, HNSCC cancer stem cells have emerged as an important factor for cancer initiation and maintenance of tumor bulk. Like normal stem cells, cancer stem cells can undergo self-renewal and differentiation. This unique trait allows for maintenance of the cancer stem cell pool and facilitates differentiation into heterogeneous neoplastic progeny when necessary. Recent studies have suggested coexistence of different cancer stem cell populations within a tumor mass, where the tumor initiation and metastasis properties of these cancer stem cells can be uncoupled. Cancer stem cells also possess resistant phenotypes that evade standard chemotherapy and radiotherapy, resulting in tumor relapse. Therefore, understanding distinctive pathways relating to cancer stem cells will provide insight into early diagnosis and treatment of HNSCC. In this review, we highlight current advances in identifying cancer stem cells, detail the interactions of these cells with the immune system within the tumor niche, and discuss the potential use of immunotherapy in managing HNSCC.
- flow cytometry
- neoplastic stem cells
- squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck
- tumor immunology
- tumor microenvironment