Apoptosis and Dog Cancer - Dog Cancer Blog

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

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Apoptosis and Dog Cancer

What makes cancer cells different from normal cells in the body?

Well, this is a simple question with a complicated answer.  I’ll look at just one of the basic differences in this post: apoptosis.

Apoptosis is a normal process where genes in cells get turned on that allow the old cell to make way for new cells.  It is a central part of maintaining body health and development. Apoptosis marks the boundary of the cell’s life cycle.

Sound weird? It is kind of odd if one imagines the body as unchanging.  In actuality, the body of both dogs and people are in constant flux.  New cells are always coming in, while older cells are being removed.

Dozens of billions of cells undergo apoptosis every day in a single body, up to 70 billion in an average human body (sorry dog lovers, no dog stat as far as I know).  This tells us the process is happening every second of every day.

Apoptosis is programmed cell “death”, but it is not the kind of “death” that we normally think of.  This is an event in the body that is supposed to happen.  It is not harmful.  On the contrary, it is health-inducing.

What happens when apoptosis levels are too low?  In other words, when cells keep living in an abnormal fashion?

Cancer happens.  Cancer can be thought of as abnormally low apoptosis levels in body cells.  These cells 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.

The main reason that cancers do not undergo apoptosis is that there is no signal to start the process.  Apoptosis is an active process that literally gets turned on in a cell when it is time for that cell to quietly go away.  This happens when genes get activated.

Sometimes viruses cause the genes to get turned on, while other times calorie restriction does it, and sometimes it’s just time causing wear and tear to the cell that turns on the genes. Environmental injury can do it, as can radiation or other causes of DNA damage. Recall that DNA makes the blueprint for all the functions in each cell of the body.  When these apoptosis genes activate, the cells sleep and are removed.

In cancer, the genes that turn on apoptosis don’t work properly.  Genes are made out of DNA.  When these genes have mutations in them, apoptosis is turned off.  So you have the “off” switch getting turned “off”…..yep, you guessed it: you get the ON signal.  When this unnatural cell growth is turned on, simply put, you get cancer.

Whether you are talking about lymphosarcoma, mast cell tumors, hemangiosarcoma, osteosarcoma, mammary cancers, melanoma, or others, they all have problems with apoptosis.

There are dietary factors that support normal apoptosis levels. Many of the agents in the dog cancer book do this. In countries where the cancer rates are low, they tend to eat a lot of ingredients that promote healty apoptosis. This is one of the reasons cancer rates are so high in the western world, in both canine and human.

Best to all,

Dr D

About the Author: Demian Dressler, DVM

Dr. Demian Dressler, DVM is known as the "dog cancer vet" and is author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog's Life Quality and Longevity.

  • Phillip Conroy

    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. http://www.cancer.gov 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.”

    • Dr. Dressler

      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…

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