Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide and places a major economic burden on the global health care system. The time frame for development from premalignant to malignant disease typically spans 10-15 years, and this latent period provides an ideal opportunity for early detection and intervention to improve patient outcomes. Currently, early diagnosis of CRC is hampered by a lack of suitable non-invasive biomarkers that are clinically or economically acceptable for population-based screening. New blood-based protein biomarkers for early detection of CRC are therefore urgently required. The success of clinical biomarker discovery and validation studies is critically dependent on understanding and adjusting for potential experimental, analytical, and biological factors that can interfere with the robust interpretation of results. In this review we outline some important considerations for research groups undertaking biomarker research with exemplars from our studies. Implementation of experimental strategies to minimise the potential effects of these problems will facilitate the identification of panels of biomarkers with the sensitivity and specificity required for the development of successful tests for the early detection and surveillance of CRC. (C) 2014 Baishideng Publishing Group Co., Limited. All rights reserved.