Human cancers are characterized by chromosomal aberrations, and an increasing number of specific balanced rearrangements have been found among malignant hematologic disorders. Most solid tumors, however, exhibit a much more complex cytogenetic pattern. Although these chromosome changes show a nonrandom distribution, tumor-specific aberrations are uncommon, and the solid tumors often contain a large number of abnormalities and also display extensive cytogenetic variability. The high level of karyotypic complexity has made a systematic characterization of the chromosomal patterns difficult. In order to better understand the biological relevance of highly abnormal karyotypes in tumor cell populations, novel statistical strategies are needed. We have developed and adapted several methods that may be useful for the evaluation of general patterns of karyotypic complexity, including distribution analysis of cytogenetic imbalances, temporal analysis for time of occurrence of aberrations, and principal component analysis for reconstructing karyotypic pathways. By applying these methods on the chromosomal changes presently known, distinct subgroups have been identified among breast, kidney, bladder, colon, and brain tumors.