Analyses of cancer incidence data in the United States and Western Europe revealed steadily rising rates over the past decades of adenocarcinomas of the esophagus and gastric cardia. Genetic information on gastric cardia adenocarcinoma and its preneoplasias is sparse. We have used comparative genomic hybridization to obtain a genome-wide overview of 20 archival gastric cardia adenocarcinomas and 10 adjacent preneoplastic lesions (4 metaplasias, 1 low-grade dysplasia, 5 high-grade dysplasias). Multiple genetic alterations were discriminated in all adenocarcinomas. Frequent loss (> or =25% of all tumors) was detected, in decreasing order of frequency, on 5q, 18q, 4q, 3p, 9p, 2q, 11q, 14q, 21q, 4p, 9q, 16q, 1p, and 8p. Frequent gain (> or =25% of all tumors) was disclosed, in decreasing order of frequency, on 20q, 7p, 8q, 1q, 7q, 20p, 17q, 13q, Xp, 6q, 8p, 19q, 5p, 6p, and Xq. Loss of the Y chromosome was found in 60% of male cases. High level amplification was frequently (>10% of all tumors) detected on 7q21, 8p22, 12p11.2, 17q12-q21, and 19q13.1-q13.2. The precursor lesions showed multiple aberrations in all high-grade dysplasias, whereas few genetic changes were discerned in LGD and metaplasias. High level amplifications were also found in high-grade dysplasias, ie, on 7q21, 8p22, and 17q12-q21. Moreover, the percentage of aberrations was not significantly different for invasive carcinomas or high-grade dysplasias. Approximately 70% of the precursor aberrations were also present in the adjacent carcinoma. Minimal overlapping regions in the preneoplasias included loss on 18q12-q21 and gains on 8q23 and 17q12-q21, suggesting involvement of genes residing in these regions. In conclusion, we have (i) created a map of genetic alterations in gastric cardia adenocarcinomas and (ii) provided evidence for the presence of a metaplasia-dysplasia-carcinoma sequence in this poorly understood type of cancer.