Colorectal cancer (CRC) is potentially preventable. Chemoprevention, a focus of research for the past three decades, aims to prevent or delay the onset of cancer through the regression or prevention of colonic adenomas. Ideal pharmacological agents for chemoprevention should be cheap and nontoxic. Although data indicate that aspirin can reduce the risk of CRC in the general population, the highest return from chemopreventive strategies would be expected in patients with the highest risk of developing the disease, particularly those with a defined hereditary predisposition. Despite compelling data showing that a large number of chemopreventive agents show promise in preclinical CRC models, clinical studies have yielded conflicting results. This Review provides a historical and methodological perspective of chemoprevention in familial adenomatous polyposis and Lynch syndrome, and summarizes the current status of CRC chemoprevention in humans. Our goal is to critically focus on important issues of trial design, with particular attention on the choice of appropriate trial end points, how such end points should be measured, and which patients are the ideal candidates to be included in a chemopreventive trial.