How many people ask their MD questions about chemotherapy? Have you
ever wondered how such a toxic substance (so toxic that those who
administer it must wear gowns and gloves) became the “standard of care”
for cancer? The truth of its origin is as far away from a scientific
laboratory as one could imagine!
In August of 1943, President Roosevelt approved the shipment of
chemical munitions containing mustard gas to the Mediterranean theater.
Two thousand mustard bombs were loaded onto the USS John Harvey. The
ship was waiting to unload in Bari, Italy when German planes attacked on
December 2, 1943. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibited the use of
chemical and biological weapons. The Allies didn’t trust the Germans and
both sides were secretly stockpiling mustard gas to prepare for
Imagine the Allies surprise when the Luftwaffe (believed to be
stretched too thin to attack) blew up the USS John Harvey, releasing
2000 mustard gas bombs (120,000 pounds) into the air and the bay,
indiscriminately killing soldiers and civilians. Hundreds of sailors who
had jumped into the water to escape the sinking ship were covered with
an oily, garlic smelling residue that blistered and burned their skin
and caused many to lose their eyesight. The Top Brass knew exactly what
was causing the symptoms. But they had been ordered to keep quiet.
Lt. Colonel Stewart Francis Alexander was flown to the scene after a
short briefing. Alexander was trained to treat the effects of chemical
warfare. He instantly recognized the symptoms: garlic-like odor, burning
skin, and blindness. It had to be mustard gas. Alexander was able to
begin treatment immediately and saved many people. However, when he
briefed the commanders, he was told to treat the patients and keep his
mouth shut. It was clear to him it was a cover-up. No one wanted the
Luftwaffe to know they had blown up a ship filled with mustard gas.
Though it would be years before the truth came out, Alexander took
tissue samples back to the U.S. to be analyzed immediately.
As the doctors began analyzing tissue samples they saw a distinctly
consistent pattern. All the samples showed a marked depletion of white
blood cells within the lymph nodes and bone marrow—exactly the tissues
that become filled with lymphoma. With the help of two Yale
pharmacologists, Louis Goodman and Alfred Gilman—they began a series of
experiments on mice. Their hypothesis was confirmed: the mustard
compound (nitrogen mustard) showed a significant decrease in the size of
lymphoid tumors in mice. The two pharmacologists persuaded a thoracic
surgeon (Gustaf Lindskog) to give nitrogen mustard to an advanced
lymphoma patient with no other options. The patient’s tumors regressed.
Other patients had the same results. The research trio was excited to
share their incredible findings with the medical community and the
world. They would have to wait until 1946 because of the secrecy
surrounding the military war gas program.
There was much excitement surrounding the publication of their
research. Up until now, the only treatment for cancer was surgery or
radiation for solid tumors. If the cancer spread—surgery and radiation
were useless. The possibility of circulating a drug throughout the body
to fight the cancer where it occurred captivated scientists around the
world. This development ushered in a new age in oncology.
How ironic that this “breakthrough” came from a substance designed to kill our “enemies.”
It shouldn’t be a stretch then, to find out that after wide
distribution and a few weeks time, the “remission” produced by nitrogen
mustard gave way to a powerful resurgence of cancer cells filling the
lymph nodes. This makes sense if you understand that the lymph system
takes out the garbage we put into our bodies. Blood brings in the
nutrients, while lymph takes out the garbage. When your lymph nodes are
full of garbage (aka poison), it has nowhere to go but to circulate
throughout the bloodstream.
To understand how nitrogen mustard attacks human DNA, you need to go
back to high school biology. Base pairs of DNA bind to each other
through hydrogen bonds. Hydrogen bonds must be pliable in order for DNA
to function. In biology, structure equals function. So in order for DNA
to replicate, the helix (structure) must completely unwind so that each
individual strand can be copied. Cell division occurs only after all
twenty-three pairs of chromosomes are laid out and replicated. Nitrogen
mustard permanently locks two nucleotides (the building blocks or base
pairs of DNA) called guanine and cytosine—preventing them from
individually replicating and stopping cell division. Since nitrogen
mustard can’t discriminate cancer cells from healthy cells, it travels
through the bloodstream locking the DNA structure of every cell it
encounters, preventing not only cancer cells from replicating, but
healthy ones as well.
Since nitrogen mustard is poison, the human body reacts to this
attack by trying to get it out of the bloodstream as soon as possible.
Shortly after chemo injections, the patient is hit by waves of nausea
and vomiting as the body tries to rid itself of the poison. Of course,
it makes sense that your blood cell counts (red, white, and platelets)
would go down in the weeks that follow because the nitrogen mustard
stops cell division necessary for blood cell production! That’s why they
monitor your blood cell numbers so closely!
As the effects of nitrogen mustard continue to lock your DNA and
decimate your blood cell reproduction, bruises appear as clotting is
inhibited. Lack of fresh red blood cells produces an all-consuming
fatigue as anemia sets in. Chance of infection rises dramatically. Hair
can’t grow and falls out. Finally, the hard-working cells of the gut are
decimated, resulting in lack of absorption of nutrients and
At this point, you have reached the razor’s edge between life and
death. How many people do you know who have been there? Keep in mind
this chemical warfare was designed to kill enemies. Keep in mind, this
chemical works to change the structure of your DNA, preventing it from
replicating the very blood cells that give you life and allow your body
to function! It’s NOT the DNA, it’s the chemical weapon that binds its
structure and therefore destroys its replication function.
“Pull out the poison, feed the body, and God will heal.” Burton Goldberg