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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. Dr. Dressler on April 12, 2010 at 12:57 am

    Dear Sharon,
    Apocaps contains the actives found in Curcumin already, as well as actives in Denosyl, so you may be able to get away without the others…then again, extra curcumin likely does little harm and is usually well tolerated…
    Best to you
    Dr D

  2. Sharon on April 7, 2010 at 6:53 am

    Dr. Dressler:

    My 16 year old 9 lb. Min Pin had a perianal carcinoma removed a couple of months ago. The cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes. Having found your website, I have ordered Apocaps and have already started her on curcumin, mixed in her food twice a day, equalling about 400 mg. She is also taking Denosyl (she had pancreatitis) and a vitamin. She is also on W/D low fat prescription food because of the pancreatitis. Is it ok to give her the Apocaps and curcumin both and should I give her more of the curcumin? She seems to like it. I am so thankful for the cancer blogs. I have certainly learned more about cancer in dogs than I ever wanted to know, but I want to make Angel’s life as comfortable and happy as possible.

  3. Dr. Dressler on March 25, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Dear Lynne, since Apocaps is designed to help maintain normal life quality and expectancy and does have luteolin already, you may discontinue the Lutimax since you would be giving two sources of the same ingredient.

    Dr D

  4. Lynne on March 25, 2010 at 6:16 am

    Hi Dr. Dressler,

    We just received our Apocaps and I have a question. Since the Apocaps contain Luteolin, should we stop the Lutimax supplements? Thank you, again.

    Lynne & Oly

  5. Patrick on August 19, 2009 at 8:16 am


    What is the source for your information that the reseveratrol in Resvantage is derived from Giant Knotweed? I cannot find this info on their website?

    Not that I don’t believe you, but I always verify through various sources.

  6. Jim on June 15, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Oxidation is not exposure to oxygen (“oxygen free environment”) It is a chemical reaction that results in a loss of electrons. Reduction is the opposite, i.e., a gain of electrons.

  7. paul on March 28, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Resveratrol for dogs..Resvantage Canine product by the way doesnot have grapeseed extrat. Also Resvantage Canine is made from giant knotweed and not ALL resvertrol comes from grapes as most people seem to think. Resveratrol is HIGHLY oxidative. I understand Resvantage Canine is protected from oxidation for they have had it encapsulated in an oxygen free nitrogen rich environment. Resvantage Canine Keeps its quality which I like. I have gone to the health food store for humans and not one of the resveratrol products offer, regardless of dosage has been manufactured correctly. They are all sitting there oxidizing regardless of its dosage

  8. paul on March 28, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Resveratrol for dogs….I have found a wonderful product for my 2 bichons, called resvantage canine. resveratrol for dogs. My one dog moaned all the tmeand after taking theresvantage canine after about a week he stopped moaning and started to be perky and seemed to be much happier. Iam thrilled to seethisand am just flabbergasted at the improvement!

  9. Dr. Dressler on March 13, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    resveratrol is so intriguing and seems like hot stuff. Honestly I am a wee bit paranoid about it since it usually comes from grapes. Occasionally a dog develops grape toxicity, from ingestion, and it is serious. Nobody knows the toxic agent, and it does not happen all the time, nor does it happen in all dogs who consume grapes. So I am left wondering….is it safe? Always? (In the dog that is).
    Could be there are non grape sources that I haven’t really checked into yet…

  10. Phillip Conroy on March 12, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    Anyone interested in cancer prevention for their dogs should have them on Resvantage Canine the resveratrol supplement for dogs. I have my dog on this supplement and I am convinced from all the research I have seen regarding resveratrol on cancer prevention, that I am actively engaged in defending him against the disease or at the least, forstalling its appearance. I have lost two dogs now to cancer and the resveratrol story is convincing.

    Have a look at the National Cancer Institute on-line publication about resveratrol. They claim it reduces tumor incidence in animals. And then have a look at a study performed at Colorado University-Denver whereby the Chair of their Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department states in an interview with CBS News “There’s no doubt, if you feed an animal this stuff, they’re going to get less cancer.”

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