Breast cancer progression is determined by a complex pattern of multiple genetic aberrations the association of which with patient prognosis is unknown. In this study, we have undertaken a genome-wide screening to detect genetic changes associated with clinical outcome in node-negative breast cancer. Comparative genomic hybridization was used to screen for DNA sequence gains and losses across all human chromosomes in 23 tumors from node-negative breast cancer patients with no disease recurrence after at least 5 years of follow-up and in 25 node-negative patients with recurrence during the first 5 years of follow-up. The total number of genetic aberrations (copy number gains and losses) per tumor was significantly greater in the recurrence group (P = 0.019) and in the subgroup of these patients who died as a result of breast cancer (P = 0.0022). When copy number losses and gains were analyzed separately, only losses were significant (P = 0.013 for recurrence and P = 0.002 for overall survival). Of the individual loci involved, a high level gain of the long arm of chromosome 8 was significantly associated with recurrence (P = 0.01, Fisher's exact test). Furthermore, amplification of DNA sequences at chromosome 20q12-13 was found in 7 cases (15%), 6 of which had early recurrence within 32 months of diagnosis. This genome-wide overview by comparative genomic hybridization suggests that genetically advanced node-negative breast cancers having a high overall number of genetic aberrations may have a poor prognosis and that increased copy number of two specific regions, 8q and 20q13, may confer a more aggressive phenotype. Results of this pilot study suggest that determination of the total number of DNA sequence copy number aberrations may help therapeutic decision making. Specific probes should be developed to test the prognostic value of 8q and 20q12-13 amplifications in large numbers of patients.