Published online May 26, 2020. doi: 10.4252/wjsc.v12.i5.303
Peer-review started: February 27, 2020
First decision: April 7, 2020
Revised: April 19, 2020
Accepted: May 5, 2020
Article in press: May 5, 2020
Published online: May 26, 2020
Core tip: Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are a distinct subpopulation in the tumor bulk that are highly plastic, and autophagy has been suggested to modulate their stemness and development during cancer progression. Autophagy is a pro-survival mechanism used by cancer cells to provide bioenergetic substrates. Therefore, dissecting the role of autophagy in cancer propagation can theoretically lead to a more efficient cancer treatment via the modulation of autophagy, in combination with chemotherapeutics to sensitize and target CSCs. This review summarizes the divergent role of autophagy in CSCs and cancer cells and attempts to elucidate the molecular mechanisms involved.