n 1953, noting a remarkable consistency between the agents causing mutations and those associated with cancer, Carl Nordling, a Finnish-born architect, proposed that cancer results from an accumulation of genetic mutations. It is now generally accepted that inherited mutations and environmental carcinogens can lead to the development of premalignant clones. After further mutations, one cell reaches a critical state which confers a survival or growth advantage over normal cells. Such cells have the ability to initiate a malignant tumour. They share many of the features of normal stem cells, including the capacity for self-renewal and differentiation, and are widely termed cancer stem cells (CSCs). Although CSCs have been well characterized in hematological malignancies, their existence in some other tissues has been questioned. Here, we review recent work in which stem cells and stem cell-like cells have been used to investigate the pathogenesis of cancer and potential anticancer treatment strategies, in the context of both hematological and somatic tissue disease.