Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are cells that drive tumorigenesis, as well as giving rise to a large population of differentiated progeny that make up the bulk of the tumor, but that lack tumorigenic potential. CSCs have been identified in a variety of human tumors, as assayed by their ability to initiate tumor growth in immunocompromised mice. Further characterization studies have demonstrated that gene expression profiles in breast cancer correlate with patient prognosis, and brain CSCs are specifically resistant to radiation through DNA damage repair. In addition, specific signaling pathways play a functional role in CSC self renewal and/or differentiation, and early studies indicate that CSCs are associated with a microenvironmental niche. Thus the biological properties of CSCs are just beginning to be revealed, and the continuation of these studies should lead to the development of CSC-targeted therapies for cancer treatment.