Apoptosis is the scientific word for “cell suicide.” In a healthy body, cells “commit suicide” when they have reached the end of their life. Unlike healthy cells, cancer cells do not die. The “apoptosis switch” is turned off with cancer. The overall goal of treatment is to turn the apoptosis switch back on to force the death of cancer cells.
How Does Apoptosis Work?
Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is a natural process occurring in the body that helps keep our cells healthy. When it goes wrong and cancer develops, researchers are working to understand how to use apoptosis as a weapon against cancer cells.
The process begins when a cell receives a signal to die. This signal is usually triggered by something in its environment—for example, when a cell receives a signal that it’s too damaged to survive and should self-destruct so it doesn’t cause any further harm.
This process involves enzymes being released inside the cell that break down DNA into smaller pieces so the parts can be recycled. The end result is that all the important parts of the cell are removed and disposed of but all non-essential molecules remain intact so they can be reused by other cells or sent back into circulation for recycling by other systems within your body.
Apoptosis is a Natural Occurrence
Apoptosis can occur during normal embryogenesis, but also as part of the immune response to pathogens. It’s not always clear what triggers apoptosis in different tissues, but a number of factors are known to play a role, including:
- Genetic mutations
- Environmental factors (exposure to toxins)
- Immune system activation