One of the biggest roadblocks to using stem cells as the basis for regenerative medicine therapies is the tumorigenicity of stem cells. Unfortunately, the unique abilities of stem cells to self-renew and differentiate into a variety of cell types are also mechanistically linked to their tumorigenic behaviors. Understanding the mechanisms underlying the close relationship between stem cells and cancer cells has therefore become a primary goal in the field. In addition, knowledge gained from investigating the striking parallels between mechanisms orchestrating normal embryogenesis and those that invoke tumorigenesis may well serve as the foundation for developing novel cancer treatments. Emerging discoveries have demonstrated that epigenetic regulatory machinery has important roles in normal stem cell functions, cancer development and cancer stem cell (CSC) identity. These studies provide valuable insights into both the shared and distinct mechanisms by which pluripotency and oncogenicity are established and regulated. In this review, the cancer-related epigenetic mechanisms found in pluripotent stem cells and cancer cells will be discussed, focusing on both the similarities and the differences.