The development of cancer is a multistage process. The activation of proto-oncogenes and the inactivation of tumor suppressor genes play a critical role in the induction of tumors. Using human cell model systems of carcinogenesis, we have studied how oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes, and recessive cancer susceptibility genes participate in this multistep process. Normal human cells are resistant to the transforming potential of oncogenes, such as ras oncogenes, which are activated by specific point mutations. Since as many as 40% of some tumor types contain activated ras oncogenes, a preneoplastic transition in multistage carcinogenesis must involve changing from an oncogene-resistant stage to an oncogene-susceptible stage. The analysis of such critical steps in carcinogenesis using rodent systems has usually not represented the human disease with fidelity. In order to study this carcinogenic process, we have developed human cell, in vitro systems that represent some of the genetic changes that occur in cellular genes during human carcinogenesis. Using these systems, we have learned some of the functions of dominant activated-transforming oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes, and cellular immortalization genes and how they influence the carcinogenic process in human cells. Using our understanding of these processes, we are attempting to clone critical genes involved in the etiology of familial cancers. These investigations may help us to develop procedures that allow us to predict, in these cancer families, which individuals are at high risk for developing cancer.