Chromosomal translocation is the best-characterized genetic mechanism for oncogene activation. However, there are documented examples of activation by alternate mechanisms, for example gene dosage increase, though its prevalence is unclear. Here, we answered the fundamental question of the contribution of DNA amplification as a molecular mechanism driving oncogenesis. Comparing 104 cancer lines representing diverse tissue origins identified genes residing in amplification 'hotspots' and discovered an unexpected frequency of genes activated by this mechanism. The 3431 amplicons identified represent approximately 10 per hematological and approximately 36 per epithelial cancer genome. Many recurrently amplified oncogenes were previously known to be activated only by disease-specific translocations. The 135 hotspots identified contain 538 unique genes and are enriched for proliferation, apoptosis and linage-dependency genes, reflecting functions advantageous to tumor growth. Integrating gene dosage with expression data validated the downstream impact of the novel amplification events in both cell lines and clinical samples. For example, multiple downstream components of the EGFR-family-signaling pathway, including CDK5, AKT1 and SHC1, are overexpressed as a direct result of gene amplification in lung cancer. Our findings suggest that amplification is far more common a mechanism of oncogene activation than previously believed and that specific regions of the genome are hotspots of amplification.