A balance between cell proliferation and cell loss is essential for tumor progression. Although up to 90% of cells are lost in late-stage carcinomas, the progression and characteristics of remnant living cells in tumor mass are unclear. Here we used molecular imaging to track the progression of living cells in a syngeneic tumor model, and ex vivo investigated the properties of this population at late-stage tumor. The piggyBac transposon system was used to stably introduce the dual reporter genes, including monomeric red fluorescent protein (mRFP) and herpes simplex virus type-1 thymidine kinase (HSV1-tk) genes for fluorescencebased and radionuclide-based imaging of tumor growth in small animals, respectively. Iodine-123-labeled 5-iodo-2′-fluoro-1-beta-D- arabinofuranosyluracil was used as a radiotracer for HSV1-tk gene expression in tumors. The fluorescence- and radionuclide-based imaging using the single-photon emission computed tomography/computed tomography revealed that the number of living cells reached the maximum at 1 week after implantation of 4T1 tumors, and gradually decreased and clustered near the side of the body until 4 weeks accompanied by enlargement of tumor mass. The remnant living cells at late-stage tumor were isolated and investigated ex vivo. The results showed that these living cells could form mammospheres and express cancer stem cell (CSC)-related biomarkers, including octamer-binding transcription factor 4, SRY (sex-determining region Y)-box 2, and CD133 genes compared with those cultured in vitro. Furthermore, this HSV1-tk-expressing CSC-like population was sensitive to ganciclovir applied for the suicide therapy. Taken together, the current data suggested that cells escaping from cell loss in latestage tumors exhibit CSC-like characteristics, and HSV1-tk may be considered a theranostic agent for targeting this population in vivo.