Hereditary diffuse gastric cancer and tylosis are autosomal dominant cancer susceptibility syndromes. Accumulating evidence also suggests a genetic contribution to Barrett's esophagus and adenocarcinoma, traditionally considered acquired disorders. In this article we review the current knowledge on the genetic mechanisms underlying hereditary diffuse gastric cancer, tylosis, and Barrett's esophagus. Hereditary diffuse gastric cancer is a paradigm for hereditary cancer susceptibility syndromes with E-cadherin implicated as the dominant oncogene in up to one-third of cases. Tylosis in contrast remains the paradox as whilst the putative abnormality has been localized to the long arm of chromosome 17, sequencing of this region has failed to reveal a disease causing mutation. In the case of Barrett's esophagus and adenocarcinoma, although a validated specific disease-associated gene is yet to be identified, the increasing body of evidence of a possible genetic link is paving the way for subsequent prognostic studies such as AspECT (Aspirin Esomeprazole Chemoprevention Trial). For the clinician these advances in understanding are already having implications for practice in terms of improved screening and the stratification of management strategies. As the mechanisms continue to be defined, there is the real possibility that these mechanisms could be exploited or subverted in the design of new therapies. In the meantime, however, clinicians should undertake rigorous biopsy programs to ensure early invasive lesions are detected.