We quantitatively analysed hypermethylation at CpG islands in the 5' ends of 12 genes and one non-CpG island 5' region (MTHFR) in 31 Wilms tumors. We also determined their global genomic 5-methylcytosine content. Compared with various normal postnatal tissues, approximately 40-90% of these pediatric kidney cancers were hypermethylated in four of the genes, MCJ, RASSF1A, TNFRSF12 and CALCA as determined by a quantitative bisulfite-based assay (MethyLight). Interestingly, the non-CpG island 5' region of MTHFR was less methylated in most tumors relative to the normal tissues. By chromatographic analysis of DNA digested to deoxynucleosides, about 60% of the Wilms tumors were found to be deficient in their overall levels of DNA methylation. We also analysed expression of the three known functional DNA methyltransferase genes. No relationship was observed between global genomic 5-methylcytosine levels and relative amounts of RNA for DNA methyltransferases DNMT1, DNMT3A, and DNMT3B. Importantly, no association was seen between CpG island hypermethylation and global DNA hypomethylation in these cancers. Therefore, the overall genomic hypomethylation frequently observed in cancers is probably not just a response or a prelude to hypermethylation elsewhere in the genome. This suggests that the DNA hypomethylation contributes independently to oncogenesis or tumor progression.