Myc is an oncoprotein transcription factor that promotes cell proliferation and apoptosis. Analysis of highly conserved elements within vertebrate Myc proteins has been instrumental in defining the functions of the Myc protein. Here, we probe the role of a highly conserved, but little studied, element within the central region of c-Myc, termed 'Myc box III' (MbIII). We show that MbIII is important for transcriptional repression by Myc, and for transformation both in vitro and in a mouse model of lymphomagenesis. Curiously, disruption of MbIII decreases transformation activity by increasing the efficiency with which Myc can induce apoptosis, suggesting that MbIII is a negative regulator of programmed cell death. These findings reveal a role for MbIII in Myc biology, and establish that the oncogenic capacity of Myc is linked directly to its ability to temper the apoptotic response.