In breast cancer it is never the primary tumour that is fatal; instead it is the development of metastatic disease which is the major cause of cancer related mortality. There is accumulating evidence that suggests that Cancer Stem Cells (CSC) may play a role in breast cancer development and progression. Breast cancer stem cell populations, including side population cells (SP), have been shown to be primitive stem cell-like populations, being long-lived, self-renewing and highly proliferative. SP cells are identified using dual wavelength flow cytometry combined with Hoechst 33342 dye efflux, this ability is due to expression of one or more members of the ABC transporter family. They have increased resistance to chemotherapeutic agents and apoptotic stimuli and have increased migratory potential above that of the bulk tumour cells making them strong candidates for the metastatic spread of breast cancer. Treatment of nearly all cancers usually involves one first-line agent known to be a substrate of an ABC transporter thereby increasing the risk of developing drug resistant tumours. At present there is no marker available to identify SP cells using immunohistochemistry on breast cancer patient samples. If SP cells do play a role in breast cancer progression/Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC), combining chemotherapy with ABC inhibitors may be able to destroy both the cells making up the bulk tumour and the cancer stem cell population thus preventing the risk of drug resistant disease, recurrence or metastasis
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