Human preimplantation embryonic cells are similar in phenotype to cancer cells. Both types of cell undergo deprogramming to a proliferative stem cell state and become potentially immortal and invasive. To investigate the hypothesis that embryonic genes are re-expressed in cancer cells, we prepare amplified cDNA from human individual preimplantation embryos and isolate embryo-specific sequences. We show that three novel embryonic genes, and also the known gene, OCT4, are expressed in human tumours but not expressed in normal somatic tissues. Genes specific to this unique phase of the human life cycle and not expressed in somatic cells may have greater potential for targeting in cancer treatment.