Tumorigenesis can be viewed as an imbalance between the mechanisms of cell-cycle control and mutation rates within the genes. Genomic instability is broadly classified into microsatellite instability (MIN) associated with mutator phenotype, and chromosome instability (CIN) recognized by gross chromosomal abnormalities. Three intracellular mechanisms are involved in DNA damage repair that leads to mutator phenotype. They include the nucleotide excision repair (NER), base excision repair (BER) and mismatch repair (MMR). The CIN pathway is typically associated with the accumulation of mutations in tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes. Defects in DNA MMR and CIN pathways are responsible for a variety of hereditary cancer predisposition syndromes including hereditary non-polyposis colorectal carcinoma (HNPCC), Bloom syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia, and Fanconi anaemia. While there are many genetic contributors to CIN and MIN, there are also epigenetic factors that have emerged to be equally damaging to cell-cycle control. Hypermethylation of tumor suppressor and DNA MMR gene promoter regions, is an epigenetic mechanism of gene silencing that contributes to tumorigenesis. Telomere shortening has been shown to increase genetic instability and tumor formation in mice, underscoring the importance of telomere length and telomerase activity in maintaining genomic integrity. Mouse models have provided important insights for discovering critical pathways in the progression to cancer, as well as to elucidate cross talk among different pathways. This review examines various molecular mechanisms of genomic instability and their relevance to cancer.