Intrinsic apoptosis is controlled by the BCL-2 family of proteins but the complexity of intra-family interactions makes it challenging to predict cell fate via standard molecular biology techniques. We discuss BCL-2 family regulation and how to determine cells' readiness for apoptosis and anti-apoptotic dependence. Cancer cells often adopt anti-apoptotic defense mechanisms in response to oncogenic stress or anti-cancer therapy. However, by determining their anti-apoptotic addiction, we can use novel BH3 mimetics to overwhelm this apoptotic blockade. We outline the development and uses of these unique anti-apoptotic inhibitors and how to possibly combine them with other anti-cancer agents using dynamic BH3 profiling (DBP) to improve personalized cancer treatment.Cell Death and Differentiation advance online publication, 27 October 2017; doi:10.1038/cdd.2017.183.