Despite several loss of heterozygosity studies, a comprehensive genomic survey of pheochromocytomas is still lacking. To identify DNA copy number changes which might be important in tumor development and progression and which may have diagnostic utility, we evaluated genetic aberrations in 29 sporadic adrenal and extra-adrenal pheochromocytomas (19 clinically benign tumors and 10 malignant lesions). Comparative genomic hybridization was performed using directly fluorochrome-conjugated DNA extracted from frozen (16) and paraffin-embedded (13) tumor tissues. The most frequently observed changes were losses of chromosomes 1p11-p32 (86%), 3q (52%), 6q (34%), 3p, 17p (31% each), 11q (28%), and gains of chromosomes 9q (38%) and 17q (31%). No amplification was identified and no difference between adrenal and extra-adrenal tumors was detected. Progression to malignant tumors was strongly associated with deletions of chromosome 6q (60% versus 21% in clinically benign lesions, P = 0.0368) and 17p (50% versus 21%). Fluorescence in situ hybridization confirmed the comparative genomic hybridization data of chromosomes 1p, 3q, and 6q, and revealed aneuploidy in some tumors. Our results suggest that the development of pheochromocytomas is associated with specific genomic aberrations, such as losses of 1p, 3q, and 6q and gains of 9q and 17q. In particular, tumor suppressor genes on chromosomes 1p and 3q may be involved in early tumorigenesis, and deletions of chromosomes 6q and 17p in progression to malignancy.