The management of cancer and other genetically based diseases is far from optimal in even our most advanced medical centers. There is still uncertainty regarding how diseases will progress in certain patients, toxicity that must be tolerated with imprecise treatment regimens and significant potential for treatment failure. As our understanding of the complexity of these diseases has increased, it has become clear that we must move toward precisely tailored approaches to treating each individual patient. To that end, a major goal of current medical research is the rapid identification of the specific molecular alterations in each patient's disease. This will enable the design of optimal diagnosis, prognosis and treatment, significantly improving survival. This review describes one important approach to the genetic analysis of disease--molecular profiling--and the tenets and technologies necessary for its success.