In this study, a panel of 39 primary malignant fibrous histiocytomas (MFH) of high malignancy grade were characterised for chromosomal alterations. The results were then evaluated in relation to the survival and the occurrence of recurrent disease during follow-up for an average period of 63 months. Chromosomal alterations detected by comparative genomic hybridisation (CGH) were recorded in 37 of the 39 cases analysed. The most frequent CGH abnormalities were gains of 17p, 20q, 16p, 17q, 1p31, 7q21, and 9cen-q22, and losses of 9p21-pter and 13q21-22. However, the patterns of CGH imbalances did not allow the identification of a single common event, suggesting that the key initiating event(s) is not a numerical imbalance. Patients with tumours harbouring a gain of 17q showed significantly longer overall and disease-free survival (P=0.001 and 0.008) as well as lower frequency of metastasis (P=0.018) during follow-up. Taken together, the findings suggest that the clinical outcome of MFH is associated with the genetic profiles of the primary tumours. Importantly, a subgroup of MFHs characterised by a low risk of developing metastasis and local recurrence is recognised based on their frequent gains of 17q by CGH.