A new discovery means that a DNA test to detect the early signs of bowel cancer could be one step closer.
Tests on two distinct genes were highly accurate in distinguishing between tumours and benign polyps - growths in the bowel that can become cancerous.
While not all polyps in the bowel become cancerous it is thought almost all bowel cancers develop from polyps.
The Cambridge study analysed 261 samples from patients with benign polyps or bowel cancer.
In particular it looked at what are called DNA methylation patterns - a key process in cell development.
The researchers at Cancer UK's Cambridge Research Institute at Cambridge University say that DNA methylation is essential for life.
In healthy cells a compound called a methyl group is tagged to DNA where it acts as a "red light", preventing certain genes from producing proteins.
But this process can go wrong in cancer cells and DNA methylation can also contribute to the cause and development of cancer by blocking important "protective genes"
Study's lead author Dr Ashraf Ibrahim says studying molecular changes could make diagnosing bowel cancer much simpler in the future.
"The molecular signals, which tell genes whether to make proteins or not, can become jumbled in cancer cells. We've identified several places where this signal becomes damaged and shown this is linked to bowel cancer development," the BB quoted Ibrahim as saying.
"The majority of bowel cancers develop from benign polyps that turn cancerous - and this crucial research deepens our understanding of the molecular changes behind this development.
"This first step in detecting molecular 'flags' for bowel cancer, could, one day, lead to a simple test to search DNA for the early signs of the disease."
The study appears in the BMJ Journal Gut.