The development of drug resistance is considered to be a major cause for the failure of chemotherapy in a number of types of cancer, including ovarian, breast and lung. Most previous research has focused on approaches to reverse drug resistance once it has arisen, that is, on the use of agents which can make drug-resistant tumors more sensitive to chemotherapy. Unfortunately, this approach has thus far met with only limited clinical success. Because of the prevalence of drug resistance in cases of advanced cancer, there exists an urgent need to develop new approaches to dealing with this problem. We have hypothesized the feasibility of an alternative approach: the use of specific agents to prevent the development of resistance before it arises. Our initial studies to examine this hypothesis have focused on ovarian cancer. We have designed both in vitro and in vivo systems in which resistance develops rapidly after exposure of tumor cells or xenografts to melphalan or cisplatin. Using these systems we have shown that two selenium compounds, selenite and selenomethionine are able to prevent the induction of resistance. Furthermore, inclusion of selenite in a chemotherapeutic protocol can result in a significant enhancement of the efficacy of cisplatin in suppressing the growth of human ovarian tumor xenografts. These results have supported the idea that prevention may be a useful new approach to the problem of drug resistance in cancer chemotherapy.