Apoptosis is a specific process that leads to programmed cell death through the activation of an evolutionary conserved intracellular pathway leading to pathognomic cellular changes distinct from cellular necrosis. Apoptosis is essential in the homeostasis of normal tissues of the body, especially those of the gastrointestinal tract, immune system and skin. There is increasing evidence that the processes of neoplastic transformation, progression and metastasis involve alterations in the normal apoptotic pathways. Furthermore, the majority of chemotherapeutic agents as well as radiation utilize the apoptotic pathway to induce cancer cell death. Resistance to standard chemotherapies also seems to be determined by alterations in the apoptotic pathways of cancer cells. Therefore, understanding the signals of apoptosis and the mechanism of apoptosis may allow the development of better chemo- or radio-therapeutic regimens for the treatment of cancer. Finally, components of the apoptotic pathway may represent potential therapeutic targets using gene therapy techniques.
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