Colorectal cancers, whether sporadic or hereditary, are caused by a defined set of molecular events. The genes and pathways involved in the earliest steps of tumorigenesis have crucial functions in the regulation of normal crypt homeostasis. Further insight into these pathways can lead to the development of useful prognostic indicators, and target preventive and therapeutic strategies in the management of colorectal cancer. Mutations in the APC/beta-catenin/Tcf-4 pathway lead to important changes in stem cell dynamics, before clinically identifiable lesions appear. Preventive strategies aimed at reversing these changes or therapeutic interventions targeting cell populations with these alterations should be most efficacious.