Cytogenetic studies are providing clues to the growth regulatory genes involved in human carcinogenesis and to mechanisms that alter their function. Investigations of chromosome translocations in B and T cell lymphomas and in chronic myelogenous leukemia have demonstrated the effects on protooncogenes of transposition within the genome, with or without structural change in the gene. These studies have also provided evidence for many previously unidentified human oncogenes. Similarly, the recognition through cytogenetics of gene amplification units in aggressive forms of certain tumors has helped to define another important type of somatic genetic change in neoplasia, again involving both known and previously unknown oncogenes. The observation of nonrandom chromosomal deletions in other malignancies has contributed to the delineation of an additional major class of tumorigenic genes, called suppressor genes, which appear to have a significant role in inherited malignancies and are now being actively sought in many common cancers. Finally, chromosome studies have helped to demonstrate the clonal nature of most neoplasms and the importance, in tumor progression, of sequential somatic genetic changes within the neoplastic clone. This latter phenomenon appears to depend primarily on acquired genetic lability in the tumor cell population. Karyotypic data are providing leads to its basis, as well as to the significance in carcinogenesis of constitutional chromosomal fragility and of specific fragile sites within the genome of different individuals.