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Now Xiangwei Wu, a molecular biologist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, and his colleagues have found two compounds that kill precancerous polyps in mice. One of these compounds is known to kill cancer cells, the other makes precancerous cells susceptible to the first compound. When injected together, they killed up to 90 per cent of polyps and left normal cells unaffected. The same mixture also killed human intestinal polyps in the lab (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature08871).If the drugs also kill polyps in people, they could be taken less frequently than drugs that merely inhibit growth, limiting side effects. While a 90 per cent success rate would be poor for chemotherapy, only a tiny fraction of precancerous cells ultimately become malignant. So just reducing their numbers can slash the risk of cancer, says Wu.