Alteration in DNA copy number is one of the many ways in which gene expression and function may be modified. Some variations are found among normal individuals, others occur in the course of normal processes in some species and still others participate in causing various disease states. For example, many defects in human development are due to gains and losses of chromosomes and chromosomal segments that occur before or shortly after fertilization, and DNA dosage-alteration changes occurring in somatic cells are frequent contributors to cancer. Detecting these aberrations and interpreting them in the context of broader knowledge facilitates the identification of crucial genes and pathways involved in biological processes and disease. Over the past several years, array comparative genomic hybridization has proven its value for analyzing DNA copy-number variations. Here, we discuss the state of the art of array comparative genomic hybridization and its applications in cancer, emphasizing general concepts rather than specific results.