Using a newly developed combined method of enzymatic technique and short-term tissue culture, 30 tumor specimens from 26 patients with nonfamilial renal cell carcinoma were subjected to cytogenetic analysis. Of the 26 patients, 19 had chromosomally abnormal tumors, four (including two oncocytomas) were normal, and three did not grow. The modal chromosome numbers ranged from 44 to 98 (including two pseudotetraploids). Banding analysis revealed 38 clonal aberrations and ten nonclonal aberrations. Abnormalities were of structure and number. The most consistent clonal abnormality was a trisomy or tetrasomy chromosome 7 occurring in tumors from 15 of the 19 patients with cytogenetically abnormal tumors. In four cases, trisomy 7 was the only visible abnormality observed, and in an additional five it was the only abnormality in two or more cells. An abnormal chromosome 3 was found in ten (38%) of the cases. Two were trisomic for #3, two were monosomic, three were hyperdiploid, and three had interstitial deletions with breakpoints clustered from p11 to p25. In only one case was a deleted #3 the only abnormality observed in a clone of cells. Loss of the sex chromosome was seen in eight (35%) of the 23 chromosomally abnormal cases including all four (100%) patients with bilateral disease. One of the patients with bilateral disease had an abnormal clone with monosomy X as the only abnormality. These data suggest that trisomy or tetrasomy 7 more often represents the specific primary abnormality than abnormalities of either chromosome 3 or the sex chromosomes. From this, a model of chromosomal progression may be constructed for nonfamilial renal cell carcinoma, which could assist in pathologic classification and prognostic and therapeutic considerations.