Structural chromosomal aberrations are common in epithelial tumors. Here, we compared the location of centromeric breaks associated with whole arm translocations in seven adenocarcinoma cell lines and nine squamous cell carcinoma cell lines using SKY, microarray-based comparative genomic hybridization (array CGH) and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). Whole arm translocations were more frequent in squamous cell carcinomas (112 in nine cell lines and nine in one short-term culture) than in adenocarcinomas (13 in seven cases) and most often resulted in copy number alterations. Array CGH analysis demonstrated that in all squamous cell carcinomas and in most adenocarcinomas, the breakpoints of unbalanced whole arm translocations occurred between the two clones on the array flanking the centromeres. However, FISH with centromeric probes revealed that in squamous cell carcinomas, the marker chromosomes with whole arm translocations contained centromeres comprised of material from both participating chromosomes, while in adenocarcinomas centromeric material from only one of the chromosomes was present. These observations suggest that different mechanisms of centromeric instability underlie the formation of chromosomal aberrations in adenocarcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.