A field of defective tissue may represent a pre-malignant stage in progression to many cancers. However, field defects are often overlooked in studies of cancer progression through assuming tissue at some distance from the cancer is normal. We indicate, however, the generality of field defects in gastrointestinal cancers, including cancers of the oropharynx, esophagus, stomach, bile duct, pancreas, small intestine and colon/rectum. Common features of these field defects are reduced apoptosis competence, aberrant proliferation and genomic instability. These features are often associated with high bile acid exposure and may explain the association of dietary-related factors with cancer progression.