The dose limitations imposed on cancer chemotherapeutic agents by their lack of selectivity can, in theory, be circumvented by a strategy entailing the prophylactic insertion into hosts of drug-sensitivity genes that are acquired or expressed in some but not all cells. This strategy predicts that neoplasms arising from drug-sensitive cells might be safely treatable with tumor-eradicative drug doses because the presence of a modicum of drug-insensitive stem cells will protect vital tissues from lethal depopulation. To test this prediction, lymphomas were induced with Abelson leukemia virus in mice bearing a herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV-TK) transgene selectively expressed in lymphoid cells. Of 12 transgenic mice treated with the HSV-TK-specific substrate ganciclovir (GCV), 11 exhibited complete tumor regressions; 5 of these mice remained tumor-free over observation periods that exceeded 100 days. Among the lymphomas that recurred, most appeared to represent mutant subpopulations that were GCV-insensitive because they had lost HSV-TK, implying that independent insertion of multiple HSV-TK gene copies might provide a means of preventing recurrences. The results of this study demonstrate that chemosensitivity genes can enhance the efficacy of treatment in hosts who subsequently develop a neoplasm. While the use of a germ-line gene insertion model precludes direct human application, the results also imply the merits of exploring an alternative version of the strategy in which somatic insertion of chemosensitivity genes in mosaic fashion is used prophylactically to enhance the prospect that a subsequent tumor will respond to therapy.