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2.4: Apoptosis

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    Another cellular process whose study may increase the understanding of aging is deliberate programmed death of cells, called apoptosis. The name comes from the Greek meaning "to fall off”. Apoptosis is helpful in removing unwanted cells or extra cells during development (e.g., unused neurons, webbing between fingers and toes); removing damaged cells; and balancing cell reproduction with cell removal to maintain homeostasis. It is a deliberate energy-requiring process. Apoptosis may be regulated by genes or damaged organelles within the cells, by signals from other cells, by environmental factors, or by a combination of such factors. Not all types of cells undergo apoptosis, and cells reach apoptosis at different rates and at different times (e.g., prenatal, postmenopause). The significance of apoptosis to aging is not known.


    A third age-related cell process involving cell division is continuous uncontrolled cell reproduction, called neoplasia. Benign neoplasia occurs when neoplastic cells remain in one mass. When neoplastic cells spread to other areas of the body, the disease is called cancer. (Suggestion 38.01.03)

    There are age-related increases in incidence rates and mortality rates for cancer. People over age 65 have 60 percent of all cases of cancer; have an incidence 11 eleven times greater and have a mortality rate from cancer 15 times greater than those under age 65. The twelve leading types of cancer have a mean age at diagnosis of age 63 or greater.

    For those 65+, major cancers, in decreasing order of occurrence, are cancers of the prostate; colon; pancreas; urinary bladder; stomach; rectum; lungs and bronchi; leukemia; uterus; non-Hodgkin's lymphomas; breast; and ovary. Except for lung cancer, which has a peak mortality rate in the 75-79 age group, there is an age-related increase in mortality rates from most of these cancers. Rates of colon cancer are expected at least to double by the year 2030 due to the increase in the number and percentage of elders in the population.

    Elders have greater problems from cancer because of having higher frequency and severity of coexisting diseases plus other age-related problems. Care and treatment for elderly cancer patients needs to be more individualized and modified based on age-related changes.

    The rate of cancers among the elderly is increasing in numbers and as a percent of the elder population. This may be due in part to the decreasing rates of death from heart attacks, resulting in more people living long enough to develop cancer. Barring significant discoveries about cancer, or other major changes in society, these trends will continue and will become worse for the elderly and for the society as whole. Therefore, the need for research on cancer in the elderly continues to grow. Aging and cancer should be studied together because many factors believed to underlie aging also correlate positively with the onset and spread of cancer (e.g., genetic regulation and damage, *FRs, telomeres, and immune responses).

    For a few photos of neoplasia, go to Preserved Specimen Index.

    For Internet images of neoplasia, search the Images section of for Neoplasia.

    For data about rates of cancer based on age, see

    Use a search engine to search for images on “cancer rates by age”. One result could be as follows.

    This page titled 2.4: Apoptosis is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Augustine G. DiGiovanna via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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