Metastasis is the primary cause of cancer patient morbidity and mortality, but due to persisting gaps in our knowledge, it remains untreatable. Metastases often occur as patient tumors progress or recur after initial therapy. Tumor recurrence at the primary site may be driven by a cancer stem-like cell or tumor progenitor cell, while recurrence at a secondary site is driven by metastatic cancer stem cells or metastasis-initiating cells. Ongoing efforts are aimed at identifying and characterizing these stem-like cells driving recurrence and metastasis. One potential marker for the cancer stem-like cell subpopulation is CD117/c-kit, a tyrosine kinase receptor associated with cancer progression and normal stem cell maintenance. Further, activation of CD117 by its ligand stem cell factor (SCF; kit ligand) in the progenitor cell niche stimulates several signaling pathways driving proliferation, survival, and migration. This review examines evidence that the SCF/CD117 signaling axis may contribute to the control of cancer progression through the regulation of stemness and resistance to tyrosine kinase inhibitors.
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