BACKGROUNDThe term CpG island methylator phenotype (CIMP) has been used to describe widespread DNA hypermethylation at CpG-rich genomic regions affecting clinically distinct subsets of cancer patients. Even though there have been numerous studies of CIMP in individual cancer types, a uniform analysis across tissues is still lacking.RESULTSWe analyze genome-wide patterns of CpG island hypermethylation in 5,253 solid epithelial tumors from 15 cancer types from TCGA and 23 cancer cell lines from ENCODE. We identify differentially methylated loci that define CIMP+ and CIMP- samples, and we use unsupervised clustering to provide a robust molecular stratification of tumor methylomes for 12 cancer types and all cancer cell lines. With a minimal set of 89 discriminative loci, we demonstrate accurate pan-cancer separation of the 12 CIMP+/- subpopulations, based on their average levels of methylation. Tumor samples in different CIMP subclasses show distinctive correlations with gene expression profiles and recurrence of somatic mutations, copy number variations, and epigenetic silencing. Enrichment analyses indicate shared canonical pathways and upstream regulators for CIMP-targeted regions across cancer types. Furthermore, genomic alterations showing consistent associations with CIMP+/- status include genes involved in DNA repair, chromatin remodeling genes, and several histone methyltransferases. Associations of CIMP status with specific clinical features, including overall survival in several cancer types, highlight the importance of the CIMP+/- designation for individual tumor evaluation and personalized medicine.CONCLUSIONSWe present a comprehensive computational study of CIMP that reveals pan-cancer commonalities and tissue-specific differences underlying concurrent hypermethylation of CpG islands across tumors. Our stratification of solid tumors and cancer cell lines based on CIMP status is data-driven and agnostic to tumor type by design, which protects against known biases that have hindered classic methods previously used to define CIMP. The results that we provide can be used to refine existing molecular subtypes of cancer into more homogeneously behaving subgroups, potentially leading to more uniform responses in clinical trials.