The link between evasion of apoptosis and the development of cellular hyperplasia and ultimately cancer is implicitly clear if one considers how many cells are produced each day and, hence, how many cells must die to make room for the new ones (reviewed in Raff, 1996). Furthermore, cells are frequently experiencing noxious stimuli that can cause lesions in their DNA and faults in DNA replication can occur during cellular proliferation. Such DNA damage needs to be repaired efficiently or cells with irreparable damage must be killed to prevent subsequent division of aberrant cells that may fuel tumorigenesis (reviewed in Weinberg, 2007). The detection of genetic lesions in human cancers that activate prosurvival genes or disable proapoptotic genes have provided the first evidence that defects in programmed cell death can cause cancer (Tagawa et al., 2005; Tsujimoto et al., 1984; Vaux, Cory, and Adams, 1988) and this concept was proven by studies with genetically modified mice (Egle et al., 2004b; Strasser et al., 1990a). It is therefore now widely accepted that evasion of apoptosis is a requirement for both neoplastic transformation and sustained growth of cancer cells (reviewed in Cory and Adams, 2002; Hanahan and Weinberg, 2000; Weinberg, 2007). Importantly, apoptosis is also a major contributor to anticancer therapy-induced killing of tumor cells (reviewed in Cory and Adams, 2002; Cragg et al., 2009). Consequently, a detailed understanding of apoptotic cell death will help to better comprehend the complexities of tumorigenesis and should assist with the development of improved targeted therapies for cancer based on the direct activation of the apoptotic machinery (reviewed in Lessene, Czabotar, and Colman, 2008).
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