World War II’s Legacy to Cancer
Pp. 25-31 (7)
Pierre R. Band
Medical research carried out during World War II influenced the development of
cancer medicine. First, classified research on mustard gas led to the discovery that nitrogen
mustard produced tumor regressions in advanced lymphomas. This event marked the dawn
of modern cancer chemotherapy. Secondly, the supply of quinine, virtually the sole
treatment for malaria, came to a halt after the conquest of Indonesia. As a result, there were
more casualties caused by malaria than by combat among American troops fighting in
areas where malaria was endemic. To address this critical situation, an extensive
cooperative program involving outstanding experimental and clinical investigators was
undertaken in the United States to find drugs other than quinine that would be active
against malaria. Within a short time, the problem was solved. After the war, several
members of the antimalarial program joined the National Institutes of Health. One of them,
Dr. Charles Gordon Zubrod, would bring to medical oncology the same vision and
organization that made the antimalarial war program a unique success.
Mustard gas, mechloretamine, lymphomas, malaria.
Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1Y6, Canada.