Gene amplification is a common event in the progression of human cancers, and amplified oncogenes have been shown to have diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic relevance. A kinetic quantitative polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR) method, based on fluorescent TaqMan methodology and a new instrument (ABI Prism 7700 Sequence Detection System) capable of measuring fluorescence in real-time, was used to quantify gene amplification in tumor DNA. Reactions are characterized by the point during cycling when PCR amplification is still in the exponential phase, rather than the amount of PCR product accumulated after a fixed number of cycles. None of the reaction components is limited during the exponential phase, meaning that values are highly reproducible in reactions starting with the same copy number. This greatly improves the precision of DNA quantification. Moreover, real-time PCR does not require post-PCR sample handling, thereby preventing potential PCR-product carry-over contamination; it possesses a wide dynamic range of quantification and results in much faster and higher sample throughput. The real-time PCR method, was used to develop and validate a simple and rapid assay for the detection and quantification of the 3 most frequently amplified genes (myc, ccndl and erbB2) in breast tumors. Extra copies of myc, ccndl and erbB2 were observed in 10, 23 and 15%, respectively, of 108 breast-tumor DNA; the largest observed numbers of gene copies were 4.6, 18.6 and 15.1, respectively. These results correlated well with those of Southern blotting. The use of this new semi-automated technique will make molecular analysis of human cancers simpler and more reliable, and should find broad applications in clinical and research settings.