How Chemotherapy Drugs Cannot Specifically Target Cancer Cells

Executive Summary

  • Chemotherapy patients are given the distinct impression that chemotherapy can target their cancer cells.


One of the often repeated claims by oncologists is that chemotherapy can specifically target cancer cells.

This claim is false.

How Oncology and the Medical Establishment Have Misled the Public For Decades on How Chemotherapy Drugs Work Against Cancer Cells

These quotes are from the article from The American Cancer Society — How Chemotherapy Drugs Work.

This first quote is one of the foundational principles of chemotherapy.

Cancer cells tend to form new cells more quickly than normal cells and this makes them a better target for chemotherapy drugs.

But why is that true?

And the only reason it does this is because these cells divide more frequently. So, it’s not targeted at cancer but at cellular division frequency. This is a bit of a verbal sleight of hand by the medical establishment.

Notice how this initial statement is contradicted in the following quote, and this inability to target cancer cells is acknowledged in the following section of the quotation from the same article.

However, chemo drugs can’t tell the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells.

This means normal cells are damaged along with the cancer cells, and this causes side effects.

Each time chemo is given, it means trying to find a balance between killing the cancer cells (in order to cure or control the disease) and sparing the normal cells (to lessen side effects).

No relative numbers are listed, making the trade-off seem far more logical and effective against cancer cells than it is. Furthermore, something left out is that there are far more non-cancerous cells than cancerous cells.

This means most cells killed by chemotherapy are non-cancerous healthy cells.

Military Strategy Question: Should You Bomb Your Soldiers in an Area Where Your Soldiers Vastly Outnumber the Enemy?

The concept of chemotherapy is very similar to attacking an enemy by bombing an area — however, the area contains 100 to 1000 times more of your troops than the enemy’s soldiers.

In a military context, this would be completely unacceptable — but in oncology, it is considered entirely normal and is one of the top three conventional approaches to cancer treatment, along with radiotherapy and immunotherapy.

Do Normal Cells Recover Better Than Cancer Cells?

The good news is that most normal cells will recover from the effects of chemo over time. But cancer cells are mutated (not normal) cells, and they usually do not recover from the effects of chemo. This is why chemo is good at killing many types of cancer cells.

  • If that is true, why is chemotherapy’s success rate so low?
  • Why does cancer return so frequently after chemotherapy treatment?

Also, it is not explained how normal cells have a superior ability to recover versus cancer cells — and the coverage also does not address that only a very small percentage of killed cells are cancer cells. Let’s say for a moment that normal cells recover better than cancer cells from chemotherapy — does that? Does that overcome the fact that so many more health cells are killed than cancer cells?

Alkylating Chemotherapy Drugs

Alkylating agents keep the cell from reproducing (making copies of itself) by damaging its DNA. These drugs work in all phases of the cell cycle and are used to treat many different cancers, including cancers of the lung, breast, and ovary as well as leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin disease, multiple myeloma, and sarcoma.

Examples of alkylating agents include:

  • Altretamine
  • Bendamustine
  • Busulfan
  • Carboplatin
  • Carmustine
  • Chlorambucil
  • Cisplatin
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Dacarbazine
  • Ifosfamide
  • Lomustine
  • Mechlorethamine
  • Melphalan
  • Oxaliplatin
  • Temozolomide
  • Thiotepa
  • Trabectedin

These are also referred to as DNA chain terminators. However, they don’t just terminate the replication of cancer cells by any living cell.

Antimetabolite Chemotherapy Drugs

Antimetabolites interfere with DNA and RNA by acting as a substitute for the normal building blocks of RNA and DNA. When this happens, the DNA cannot make copies of itself, and a cell cannot reproduce. They are commonly used to treat leukemias, cancers of the breast, ovary, and the intestinal tract, as well as other types of cancer.

Examples of antimetabolites include:

5-fluorouracil (5-FU)
6-mercaptopurine (6-MP)
Capecitabine (Xeloda)
Cytarabine (Ara-C)
Gemcitabine (Gemzar)
Pemetrexed (Alimta)
Trifluridine/tipiracil combination

These are also referred to as DNA chain terminators. However, they don’t just terminate the replication of cancer cells by any living cell.

  • These are drugs like AZT, the drug used against AIDS.
  • However, as with cancer, AZT cannot kill cells infected with AZT versus any normal healthy cell.
  • Only a tiny fraction of cells infected with HIV are killed versus a very large number of non-HIV-infected cells.

AZT is a deadly drug that kills anyone who stays on it long enough.

The logic of using AZT to try to attack HIV-infected cells makes as little sense as using chemotherapy drugs to attack cancer cells. Furthermore, chemotherapy drugs do not address why the cancer formed in the first place — they only kill the symptoms of the cancer. Without lifestyle changes, there is nothing to stop the cancer from developing again.

The following quotes are from the article Chemotherapy Drugs.

Chemotherapy drugs are medicine you receive to kill cancer cells. There are different types of chemo drugs that work in different ways. However, all chemotherapy drugs kill fast-growing cells, like cancer cells.

But they don’t just kill fast-growing cells. Chemotherapy drugs kill any living cell. They kill more fast-growing cells, but there is no explanation for the propensity to kill more fast-growing cells than slower-growing cells—actually, an explanation I have found very difficult to find in the studies on cancer.

Chemotherapy drugs may be used to treat conditions other than cancer, including:

  • Autoimmune diseases: With an autoimmune disease, cells in your immune system attack healthy tissue in your body. By preventing cells from multiplying, chemotherapy can slow the immune cells harming your body.
  • Blood disorders: Blood disorders include conditions that involve your bone marrow making abnormal blood cells. With certain blood disorders, you may need a stem cell transplant to replace abnormal blood cells with healthy ones. Chemotherapy is often given before a transplant to destroy abnormal cells and make room for healthy cells.

Using a Combination of Chemotherapy Drugs?

You may receive one type of chemotherapy drug or a combination of drugs. This is called combination chemotherapy. Using more than one type of chemotherapy drug can increase treatment effectiveness, as different drug types target cancer cells differently. Also, using drugs in combination can reduce the likelihood of your body becoming resistant to a specific drug. Once you develop a resistance, the drug may no longer work as a cancer treatment.

But won’t drug resistance still develop? Also, why is a combination of chemotherapy drugs better than one? It is presented as better, but outside of drug resistance, which is not entirely clear unless the chemotherapy drug is discontinued for a while, it also does not make sense.

Also, when articles from the medical establishment discuss drug resistance, they only seem to discuss the drug resistance of cancer cells. They leave out that the standard health cells also develop chemotherapy drug resistance. Therefore, the more different chemotherapy drugs are used, the more cancer cells are killed, and more normal healthy cells are also killed. Drug resistance is a two-way street.

The best chemotherapy drug is the one that’s proven to work best for your type of cancer. In some instances, the best chemotherapy drug isn’t a single drug but a combination that often works to treat a specific cancer type at a particular stage.

Again — this is asserted, but I could find little evidence that this is true.

Are Chemotherapy Drugs Becoming More Targeted?

These quotes are from the article, also from The American Cancer Society titled Do Chemotherapy Drugs Target Cancer?

Knowing these details has led to the development of drugs that can “target” these proteins or enzymes and block the messages being sent. Targeted drugs can block or turn off signals that make cancer cells grow, or can signal the cancer cells to destroy themselves.

This is a constant claim, but the reality of chemotherapy is that it is not very targeted. If it were, it would not kill so many healthy cells.

Targeted therapy is an important type of cancer treatment, and researchers will develop more targeted drugs as they learn more about specific changes in cancer cells. But so far, only a few type of cancers are routinely treated using only these drugs. Most people getting targeted therapy also need surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or hormone therapy.

If these treatments were effective, one would not need so many treatments. Also, each of the treatments imposes large side effects on the patient.

Chemotherapy agents can be given per oral (PO), intravenous (IV), subcutaneous (SC), intramuscular (IM), intrathecal (IT). Most of the chemotherapy agents are IV because of the 100% absorption rate.

Most of the chemotherapy agents are metabolized and excreted by either liver or kidney. Some of the chemotherapy drugs are toxic to the liver or kidneys. In such cases, toxic levels can build up in these leading to organ dysfunction. Therefore, it is essential to consider dose adjustments in these organ failure patients. For example, capecitabine dose needs to be adjusted for patients with renal disease.

They are all toxic to the liver and kidneys. And it’s not just some chemotherapy drugs.

Chemotherapeutic agents are commonly associated with side effects.

That is a very subtle way of putting it. They cause side effects and very serious side effects.

The term “associated” implies that they happen together.

Often cytotoxic chemotherapy targets DNA and proteins expression in both cancer cells and normal host cells. Hence, the therapeutic index leading to toxicity is very narrow.

This means the danger with chemotherapy drugs is high.

More quotes that soft peddle chemotherapy side effects from The Mayo Clinic’s article titled Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer.

Chemotherapy for breast cancer also carries a risk of side effects — some temporary and mild, others more serious or permanent.

This is deceptive. No one takes chemotherapy drugs that do not have serious side effects — so the risk of side effects can be said to be 100%. One usually does not use the term risk when something is an absolute certainty. This would be like saying a person has a risk of dying at some point — where everyone dies.

Side effects may get worse during the course of treatment. Most side effects are temporary and subside once treatment is finished. Sometimes chemotherapy can have long-term or permanent effects.

I don’t think the term “sometimes” is accurate in this case either.

In the process of targeting fast-growing cancer cells, chemotherapy drugs can also damage other fast-growing healthy cells, such as those in the hair follicles, bone marrow and digestive tract.

These side effects often go away after treatment is finished or within a year after completing chemotherapy. In some cases, they may be long lasting.

This is undoubtedly soft-peddling the likelihood of permanent side effects.

MD Anderson Offers More Targeted Chemotherapy Claims

The following quote is from the article from MD Anderson titled Targeted Therapy to Treat Cancer.

Targeted therapy is different than traditional chemotherapy.

While chemotherapy kills all cells that multiply quickly regardless of whether they’re cancerous, targeted therapies are designed to find and slow the growth of the cells that have a particular mutation.

The question of why chemotherapy drugs kill cells that grow quickly versus those that don’t is not well explained in sources I have reviewed.

The mutation is identified in a process called next-generation sequencing. During this process, a small tissue sample from the tumor is removed and tested.

This is very unlikely—much has been spent on genetic mutations in cancer research with little benefit to show.

With some widely-used FDA-approved cancer drugs, only 2% to 20% of patients see a response. “Sometimes, these drugs are only adding days to a patient’s life,” Subbiah says.

2 + 20/2 = 11%. That means Subbiah is estimating an average of 11% of patients see a response. That means 89% (on average) do not. What is the point of applying such treatment?

Furthermore, patients are told this when given chemotherapy, as the cancer center and oncologist want to charge the patient.

This is only admitted when the treatment is compared to a newer treatment.

What about the people who were lied to, disabled or killed by the older treatment?

But in some early-phase clinical trials testing new, experimental targeted therapy drugs, Subbiah and his team have seen 35% to 77% of patients respond well.

These will always be exaggerated; there is no way to verify this as the clinical trials are in the early phase. Also, “responding well” does not mean the patients are cured.

“These mutations can be rare, like picking a needle out of a haystack. But there is a theme here — the response rates are higher when we match right therapies to the right genetic makeup,” Subbiah says. “So I encourage patients to keep an open mind, ask for genetic testing of the tumors and talk to their doctor about the possibility of joining a Phase I clinical trial.”

This claim is false. Cancer is not a genetic disease, something I cover in the article What Percentage of Cancer is Estimated to be Genetic?


The medical establishment, oncologists, and cancer centers have been providing inaccurate information on chemotherapy drugs’ benefits versus cancer and their ability to distinguish between healthy cells and cancer cells since chemotherapy was first developed as a treatment for cancer.

Even accepting the claims of the medical establishment, chemotherapy drugs cannot be shown to add more than a few months to a patient’s life — at the cost of degrading their health and life. People who go through chemotherapy are permanently damaged and never what they were before chemotherapy. If chemotherapy continually improves and so much progress is being made, why does the average life extension not appear to increase?