Normal cell function is dependent on the proper maintenance of chromatin structure. Regulation of chromatin structure is controlled by histone modifications that directly influence chromatin architecture and genome function. Specifically, the histone deacetylase (HDAC) family of proteins modulate chromatin compaction and are commonly dysregulated in many tumors, including colorectal cancer (CRC). However, the role of HDAC proteins in early colorectal carcinogenesis has not been previously reported. We found HDAC1, HDAC2, HDAC3, HDAC5, and HDAC7 all to be up-regulated in the field of human CRC. Furthermore, we observed that HDAC2 up-regulation is one of the earliest events in CRC carcinogenesis and observed this in human field carcinogenesis, the azoxymethane-treated rat model, and in more aggressive colon cancer cell lines. The universality of HDAC2 up-regulation suggests that HDAC2 up-regulation is a novel and important early event in CRC, which may serve as a biomarker. HDAC inhibitors (HDACIs) interfere with tumorigenic HDAC activity; however, the precise mechanisms involved in this process remain to be elucidated. We confirmed that HDAC inhibition by valproic acid (VPA) targeted the more aggressive cell line. Using nuclease digestion assays and transmission electron microscopy imaging, we observed that VPA treatment induced greater changes in chromatin structure in the more aggressive cell line. Furthermore, we used the novel imaging technique partial wave spectroscopy (PWS) to quantify nanoscale alterations in chromatin. We noted that the PWS results are consistent with the biological assays, indicating a greater effect of VPA treatment in the more aggressive cell type. Together, these results demonstrate the importance of HDAC activity in early carcinogenic events and the unique role of higher-order chromatin structure in determining cell tumorigenicity.