Epigenetic mechanisms are essential for normal development and maintenance of tissue-specific gene expression patterns in mammals. Disruption of epigenetic processes can lead to altered gene function and malignant cellular transformation. Global changes in the epigenetic landscape are a hallmark of cancer. The initiation and progression of cancer, traditionally seen as a genetic disease, is now realized to involve epigenetic abnormalities along with genetic alterations. Recent advancements in the rapidly evolving field of cancer epigenetics have shown extensive reprogramming of every component of the epigenetic machinery in cancer including DNA methylation, histone modifications, nucleosome positioning and non-coding RNAs, specifically microRNA expression. The reversible nature of epigenetic aberrations has led to the emergence of the promising field of epigenetic therapy, which is already making progress with the recent FDA approval of three epigenetic drugs for cancer treatment. In this review, we discuss the current understanding of alterations in the epigenetic landscape that occur in cancer compared with normal cells, the roles of these changes in cancer initiation and progression, including the cancer stem cell model, and the potential use of this knowledge in designing more effective treatment strategies.