The two doctors who invented chemotherapy, Dr. Louis Goodman and Dr. Alfred Gilman, made a medical breakthrough while the testing nitrogen mustard, but it wasn't even the discovery that they'd hoped or intended to make.
During World War I, the gas was used as a means of chemical warfare. During World War II, it was found through research that soldiers who had inhaled mustard gas and were subsequently tested for exposure to the gas were found to have a significantly lower count of white blood cells. Because of the impact the agent had against white blood cells, research began to determine what effect it could have against cancer.
During the early 1940s, Goodman and Gilman, along with a team of researchers, worked with nitrogen mustard to determine its effects on cancer. Through studies, it was determined that nitrogen mustard agents destroyed lymphatic tissue. Testing of nitrogen mustard used on mice with lymphoma showed a regression in the disease.
The next step included testing of a terminal patient with an advanced case of lymphosarcoma cancer. The patient, non-receptive to radiation, was treated with nitrogen mustard intravenously. The clinical test, performed by Gustaf E. Lindskog, resulted in significant improvement.
Additional testing included patients with various diseases who were no longer responding to radiation. Radiation treatment and surgery were the only options for cancer treatment.
Based on the research, Goodman and his team were granted permission by the US government to publish their findings on the effects of nitrogen mustard in the treatment of cancer. The initial testing on patients using nitrogen gas to fight the disease was the first step in chemotherapy treatment.
Continued research using nitrogen mustard as a base led doctors and researchers to look for similar substances that would produce other anticancer drugs.
Today, chemotherapy is an accepted form of treatment that used as a single treatment option or used along with radiation and surgery.