Nature Reviews Cancer 12, 170-180 (March 2012) | doi:10.1038/nrc3217

Epithelial stem cells, wound healing and cancer

Esther N. Arwert1,2,3, Esther Hoste1,3 & Fiona M. Watt1  About the authors


It is well established that tissue repair depends on stem cells and that chronic wounds predispose to tumour formation. However, the association between stem cells, wound healing and cancer is poorly understood. Lineage tracing has now shown how stem cells are mobilized to repair skin wounds and how they contribute to skin tumour development. The signalling pathways, including WNT and Hedgehog, that control stem cell behaviour during wound healing are also implicated in tumour formation. Furthermore, tumorigenesis and wound repair both depend on communication between epithelial cells, mesenchymal cells and bone marrow-derived cells. These studies suggest ways to harness stem cells for wound repair while minimizing cancer risk.

Author affiliations

  1. Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute, Li Ka Shing Centre, Robinson Way, Cambridge CB2 ORE, UK.
  2. Present address: Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Michael F. Price Center, 1301 Morris Park Avenue, New York NY 10461, USA.
  3. These authors contributed equally to this work.

Correspondence to: Fiona M. Watt1 Email:

Published online 24 February 2012