Differentiation: 1 The process by which cells become progressively more specialized; a normal process through which cells mature. This process of specialization for the cell comes at the expense of its breadth of potential. Stem cells can, for example, differentiate into secretory cells in the intestine. 2 In cancer, differentiation refers to how mature (developed) the cancer cells are in a tumor. Differentiated tumor cells resemble normal cells and tend to grow and spread at a slower rate than undifferentiated or poorly differentiated tumor cells, which lack the structure and function of normal cells and grow uncontrollably.