Interest in mechanisms of colon cancer prevention by food compounds is strong and research in this area is often performed with cultured colon cancer cells. In order to assess utility for screening of potential cancer-preventive (food) compounds, expression profiles of 14 human cell lines derived from colonic tissue were measured using cDNA microarrays with 4000 genes and compared with expression profiles in biopsies of human colon tumours and normal tissue. Differences and similarities in the gene expression profiles of the cell lines were analysed by clustering and principal component analysis (PCA). Cytoskeleton genes and immune response genes are two functional classes of genes that contributed to the differences between the cell lines. A subset of 72 colon cancer-specific genes was identified by comparing expression profiles in human colon biopsies of tumour tissue and normal tissue. A separation of the cell lines based on the tumour stage of the original adenocarcinoma was observed after PCA of expression data of the subset of colon cancer-specific genes in the cell lines. The results of this study may be useful in the ongoing research into mechanisms of cancer prevention by dietary components.