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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Apoptosis and Dog Cancer

Updated: December 1st, 2021


Apoptosis and Cancer … what’s the connection? Every cancer shares six characteristics — and a LACK of apoptosis is one of those characteristics. Every cancer suppresses apoptosis, which is why boosting apoptosis in cancer cells can help.

What makes cancer cells different from normal cells? That’s a simple question with a complicated answer.  In this post, we’re looking at just one of the basic differences: apoptosis.

This is such an important topic that an entire chapter of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide is dedicated to apoptosis. But for now, let’s look at a few videos and some very brief explanations to find out why a lack of apoptosis is a factor in cancer. Or, as one writer put it, cancer is a failure of apoptosis.

Apoptosis: a Natural Way To Die

Every day in the adult human body, 50 to 70 billion cells die and get flushed out. And we don’t notice a thing!

That’s because the process of natural cell suicide, or apoptosis, is completely pain-free.

Here’s a beautiful video showing apoptosis in a human melanoma cell. Watch how it kind of shrinks up and the colors of individual parts of the cell swirl together.

Why Would a Cell Commit Suicide, Anyway?

Well, there could be several reasons, depending upon the cell.

Some cells need to make room. For example, we all had webbed hands in our mother’s womb … until at a certain point the cells in those webs started to commit suicide, and by apoptosis, created our fingers.

Some cells get damaged. Perhaps they are damaged by a virus, an infection, bacteria, etc.

Some cells get deranged. They are changed at the DNA level by a chemical or medication, radiation exposure, or trauma.

Some cells get old. They simply reach the end of their lifespan. They die and are replaced by new, healthy cells.

In any of these cases, a cell’s DNA will naturally turn on apoptosis genes so that the cell naturally, painlessly, easily kills itself.

Get a copy of this seminar to learn more on Apoptosis and dog cancer treatment

Apoptosis for Health

As you can see from the list above, apoptosis genes are REALLY important. They are built into the DNA of every cell in the body, and they are constantly monitoring their cell’s health.

The apoptosis genes are always alert for changes. Changes in the DNA (derangement), damage to the cell, or an inability to function anymore (end of lifespan) “turn on” the apoptosis genes, so they can:

  • shrink the cell’s size, probably to keep it from harming its neighbors as it kills itself
  • dismantle the cell’s structures
  • create “apoptotic bodies,” little tiny dead cell bits that are gobbled up by immune system cells called macrophages

Apoptosis genes are sort of like the automatic braking system in your car. They are always monitoring, but only kick in when necessary.

Apoptosis in Cancer

So … what happens when apoptosis levels are too low?  In other words, when cells keep living in an abnormal fashion? Or, in other words, when the automatic braking system is disabled?

Cancer happens, for one.  Cancer can be thought of as abnormally low apoptosis levels in body cells.

Without active apoptosis genes to stop them, cancer cells aim to keep living and keep reproducing. They consume body resources, destroy normal architecture, hijack the immune system, derange body metabolism, and continue to live at any cost.

In the end, they zero in towards destroying the very body that nourishes them.

In fact, a lack of apoptosis is a characteristic that ALL cancers share. That means in order for a disease to be called cancer, it must resist cell death or lack apoptosis.

Cancer makes sure that the apoptosis genes in a cell do NOT get activated. It effectively tells them to “sleep.” With the apoptosis genes asleep, the automatic braking system turned off, the cancer cell can multiply as much as it wants to. It can live forever — because no apoptosis genes are awake to make it commit suicide!

Whether you are talking about lymphosarcoma, mast cell tumors, hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, mammary cancers, melanoma, or any other type of cancer … they all feature a lack of apoptosis.

Get a copy of the Dog Cancer Survival Guide for helpful tools and information

What Can Restore Apoptosis

So how do we “wake up” those apoptosis genes? Well, there are several apoptogens out there. (Apoptogens are agents that induce apoptosis.)

For example, we used to think that conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation just killed cancer cells directly (cytotoxicity).

It turns out after we have learned more about apoptosis, that some of those treatments ALSO induce apoptosis! So, they’re killing cancer cells directly AND they are waking up apoptosis genes so the cells will commit suicide!

There also are dietary factors that support normal apoptosis levels. In fact, in countries where the cancer rates are low, they tend to eat a lot of ingredients that promote healthy apoptosis. These are mostly plant-based foods that have bitter and brightly colored compounds. Curcumin, luteolin, apigenin, silymarin, gingerols, rutin … these are all found in things like celery, parsley, turmeric, the rinds of citrus fruits and the hulls of peanuts.

I think one of the reasons cancer rates are so high in the western world, in both canine and human, is because we tend to eat diets much lower in these dietary apoptogens!

Best to all,

Dr D

Editor’s Note: Dr. Dressler dedicates an entire chapter of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide to nutraceuticals that are apoptogens.

Here’s a great video that explains apoptosis very clearly. You’ll see how complicated it is — and why it’s so important!

Further Reading and Resources

Hanahan, D., Weinberg R. Hallmarks of Cancer: The Next Generation. Cell, Volume 144, Iss. 5, P646-674, MARCH 04, 2011

Khan N, Adhami VM, Mukhtar H. Apoptosis by dietary agents for prevention and treatment of cancer. Biochem Pharmacol. 2008 Dec 1;76(11):1333-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2008.07.015. Epub 2008 Jul 22. PMID: 18692026; PMCID: PMC2936503.

Cancer Is a Failure of Apoptosis (How Cancer Develops), by Rhys Baker

Apoptogen Definition

Nutraceutical Definition


Leave a Comment

  1. Kevi Madigan on December 2, 2021 at 4:42 pm

    Hello, what is your reccomendation on whether to give dogs apocaps to try to prevent cancer? We have lost a 9 and 10 year old to hemangiosarcoma. We all know you cannot stop hemangio or most of these other cancers with apocaps or anything else. Is there any science in trying to prevent them with apocaps?

    • Molly Jacobson on December 4, 2021 at 2:36 pm

      Hi Kevin! Dr. Dressler formulated EverPup to answer the question “how to do I keep my dog healthy for as long as possible.” It has lower doses of most of the same apoptogens in Apocaps, plus a multivitamin, gut and joint support, and it’s really helpful for daily use in dogs of all ages. As you already know, there is no sure way to prevent cancer of any kind, but a good diet, plenty of fresh air and exercise are foundational. EverPup is, for me, a daily “insurance” for peace of mind. My dogs started on it at age 18 months and two years, and Kanga is thirteen and her bloodwork always comes back “perfectly normal” and has never been on any medication long-term. Roo, unfortunately, passed away a few months ago, but lived to almost thirteen and was similarly robust right up until the end. I can’t determine that any one thing we have done is responsible for their health, but I would absolutely say that EverPup is one of the life quality/dietary/supplement choices we made early on that I will absolutely do for my next dog (and the ones after that!). You can get EverPup on just about any online shopping site or from the manufacturer directly at

  2. Dorthe on April 30, 2020 at 9:58 am

    I would like to share the story of my little Papillon dog Ditte Dot Com. She was about to be put down for more than 3 years ago, at the age of 9, due to abdominal tumors. She is still alive as a happy and vital dog after having medicinal mushrooms (she gets daily Turkey Tail and Reishi) and Milk Thistle.

  3. Karen Lask on January 15, 2020 at 9:28 am

    Should I be giving my 11-year-old Gloden and 1-year-old Golden Apocaps on a daily basis? They get everpup daily.. Neither thank god have cancer. I lost my 7-year-old Golden in one week’s time from hemangiosarcoma. In-operable
    Thank you,

    PS: I do have Apocaps on hand

    • Molly Jacobson on July 14, 2020 at 2:20 pm

      Hi Karen, I give my senior dogs Apocaps daily for mobility issues (I use a half dose unless there is a issue) as well as apoptosis support (for one of my dogs who really needs the full dose of apoptogens). I would not give that potent a dose of dietary apoptogens in Apocaps to a puppy — the 1 year old is getting plenty from EverPup.

  4. […] importance of keeping apoptosis going is discussed in Dr. Demian Dressler’s pawesome e-book, the “Dog Cancer Survival […]

  5. Dr. Demian Dressler on January 29, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Dear Frank
    I use extracts that include traditional chinese medicine. Then again the population of China relies on this type of medicine, so billions of people can’t all be wrong.
    Dr D

  6. Frank Brennan on January 28, 2013 at 5:41 am

    Dr. Dressler,

    I neglected to mention that my dogs are current users of both of these products. However, I was hoping to get you on the record that none of the contents nor the processing of these products outside of the USA and especially not in China.

    thank you.

  7. Frank Brennan on January 28, 2013 at 5:38 am

    Dr. Dressler,
    Is any part of ApoCaps or EverPup made in or processed outside of the USA and if so, is it China? That includes containers and packaging.

    Thanks for you time.

  8. Dr. Demian Dressler on May 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Dear Ashley,
    I am afraid the FDA disallows me stating that Apocaps is for any particular disease. However, I did design it for my own patients to help support normal apoptosis levels. Perhaps a better choice would be the brand new Everpup!
    Dr D

  9. Ashley on May 26, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Dr. Dressler,
    Would you suggest Apocaps as a preventative in healthy dogs, or was it designed specifically to help dogs who already have cancer?

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