The somatic mutation theory of cancer maintains that tumorigenesis is driven by genetic alterations, many of which are visible cytogenetically. We have examined breast cancer by chromosome banding analysis after short-term culturing of tumor cells and here review our findings in 322 karyotypically abnormal samples obtained since 1992 from 256 patients. The screening capabilities of this technique enabled us to identify several cytogenetic subgroups of breast cancer, to study the intratumor heterogeneity of breast carcinomas, and to compare primary tumors with their metastases. Using chromosome abnormalities as clonality markers, we could determine on an individual basis when multiple, ipsilateral or bilateral breast, tumors were independent de novo carcinomas and when they resulted from the spreading of a single malignant clone within one breast or from one breast to the other. The distribution of chromosomal breakpoints and genomic gains and losses is clearly nonrandom in breast cancer, something that can guide further investigations using molecular methods. Based on the total dataset, we propose a multipathway model of mammary carcinogenesis that takes into consideration the genetic heterogeneity revealed by the karyotypic findings and review the karyotypic-pathologic correlations and the possible clinical applications of the cytogenetic knowledge.