Purpose of review: Here, we identify shortcomings of standard compartment-based mathematical models of cancer stem-cells, and propose a continuous formalism which includes the tumor microenvironment. Recent findings: Stem-cell models of tumor growth have provided explanations for various phenomena in oncology including, metastasis, drug- and radio-resistance, and functional heterogeneity in the face of genetic homogeneity. While some of the newer models allow for plasticity, or de-differentiation, there is no consensus on the mechanisms driving this. Recent experimental evidence suggests that tumor microenvironment factors like hypoxia, acidosis, and nutrient deprivation have causative roles. Summary: To settle the dissonance between the mounting experimental evidence surrounding the effects of the microenvironment on tumor stemness, we propose a continuous mathematical model where we model microenvironmental perturbations like forces, which then shape the distribution of stemness within the tumor. We propose methods by which to systematically measure and characterize these forces, and show results of a simple experiment which support our claims.