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

Apoptosis for Cancer Cells: Read Chapter 7 To Find Out Why This Tiny, Normal, Natural Body Process Is the Heart of My Approach to Full Spectrum Dog Cancer Care

Veterinary oncologists really only focus on three ways to treat dog cancer: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. But cancer researchers — the ones who are at the cutting edge of future treatments — are focusing on apoptosis for cancer cells.

Below, you’ll find an excerpted chapter on apoptosis from Dr. Demian Dressler’s best-selling book The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. (The book is available everywhere books are sold and on our online shop.)

This chapter is really helpful to read if you want to understand more about why Dr. D focuses so much in getting cancer cells to “commit suicide” naturally with apoptosis. This normal, natural body process is incredible, and understanding it is really helpful when thinking about how to choose your dog’s cancer treatments.

Chapter 7: Apoptosis for Cancer Cells

Excerpted from The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity, by Dr. Demian Dressler, DVM, with Susan Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology)

Apoptosis, nature’s way of clearing the body of old or damaged cells, is often diminished when cancer is present. Restoring normal apoptosis levels is an important goal in Full Spectrum cancer care.

In the normal course of events, cells are born, grow, live, and finally die to make way for new cells.

Then, when the body no longer needs the cell or when the cell has reached the end of its usefulness, apoptosis genes encoded in the DNA turn on and kill the cell in a natural, safe manner. This happens in 50 to 70 billion cells a day in the average adult human — and we don’t notice a thing.

Apoptosis is also called “programmed cell death” and occasionally “cell suicide.”

Apoptosis is also called “programmed cell death” and occasionally “cell suicide.”

Apoptosis Happens When It’s Time, When There Is Damage, Or When There Is Derangement

Apoptosis is not only a completely normal cellular process, but it’s also vital for a normal life.

One of my favorite examples of how apoptosis helps us on a grand scale is the human finger. When you look at images of babies developing in the womb, you can see that they have flipper-like hands early on. Later, they have fingers – and that is because their apoptosis genes activated to carve out the excess tissue and separate the flipper into five digits.

Apoptosis can happen when a cell reaches the end of its natural lifespan or when a cell sustains irreparable damage. If the cell cannot repair the harm caused by, for example, radiation, oxygen depletion, infection or DNA damage, the apoptosis genes direct the cell to die. In other words, the cell kills itself if it can’t repair itself.

Cells kill themselves if they can’t repair themself. Cell Suicide = Apoptosis.

Apoptosis Is 100% Natural and Normal and Painless

Apoptosis is a very controlled cellular process. A detailed description of the complicated series of steps apoptosis genes take to shrink and finally disintegrate the cell is beyond the scope of this book; the important thing for our purposes is for you to understand that once a cell’s life is over, the body disposes of the waste debris quietly, naturally and safely.

There are other ways for cells to die. For example, another kind of cell death is called necrosis, which is uncontrolled death, as when the body is injured accidentally. This traumatic cell death can lead to inflammation, especially when many cells die at the same time. Apoptosis, on the other hand, does not usually create inflammation in the body.

Cancer Cells Shut Down Apoptosis So They Can Live Forever

A consistent hallmark of cancer cells is that they evade apoptosis: instead of dying a natural death, they divide, divide again, and divide some more, and keep on proliferating. No matter what type of cancer we are looking at, apoptosis is not normal. If we could get apoptosis levels back up, we might be able to manage cancer — all types of cancer.

Dr. Robert Gerl and Dr. David L. Vaux said in their paper Apoptosis in the Development and Treatment of Cancer, “One of the few areas in the cell death field that everyone does agree upon is that having cancer cells undergo apoptosis would be a good thing.”

“One of the few areas in the cell death field that everyone does agree upon is that having cancer cells undergo apoptosis would be a good thing.”

You may have never heard of apoptosis before you read this book, because it usually gets about two paragraphs in high school biology texts. I like to think about it because I choose to take a wide-angle view for problems like cancer. Apoptosis is a clear pattern we can examine for clues, as most normal body cells undergo apoptosis, most cancer cells evade apoptosis, and most experts agree that getting cancer cells to undergo apoptosis would be a good thing. For these reasons, boosting apoptosis levels in the body is an important theme in Full Spectrum cancer care, no matter what the diagnosis or tumor location.

Using Apoptosis for Cancer Cells

The idea of using apoptosis to fight cancer has been around since the late nineteen-nineties and it is beginning to gain real traction. Pharmaceutical companies are starting to research synthetic apoptogens (compounds which cause apoptosis), and according to a pharmaceutical market research report from the United Kingdom, the apoptosis market is already worth billions of dollars. In a few years, most people will know about apoptosis, as they now know about DNA.

In a few years, most people will know about apoptosis, as they now know about DNA.

While programmed cell death was first described nearly two hundred years ago, it wasn’t called apoptosis until 1972, when a landmark paper was published in the British Journal of Cancer. The paper’s authors wanted to make a clear distinction between natural programmed cell death and cell death that results from trauma, so they consulted a Greek language professor to help them find a new name for cell suicide. He suggested the word apoptosis.

The first part, apo means from, off, or without, and the second part, ptosis means falling. In the original Greek, the word is used to mean the “dropping off ” or “falling off ” of leaves or petals from plants or trees (the dropping of leaves from trees in the autumn is apoptosis). The researchers used it in their seminal paper, and the name has stuck. The image of petals falling from flowers or leaves drifting from trees is certainly lyrical, and a good metaphor for this normal, natural body process.

How to Pronounce Apoptosis

The traditional and most correct pronunciation is the Greek, which features a silent second p: “ay-po-TOE-sis,” although many people pronounce the word in English as “ay-POP-toe-sis.” I prefer and use the original pronunciation.


Found that FREE chapter helpful? Get the full 500-page book The Dog Cancer Survival Guide for only $9.99. There are 40 more Super Helpful Chapters, 5 Incredible Appendices, and 1 Fantastic Index in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.


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