The prognostic value of marrow chromosome studies was examined in 112 "preleukemic" patients followed for at least one year or until death. Based on recent definitions, 49 patients were classified as myeloproliferative disorders (MPD) (polycythemia vera, myelofibrosis, undifferentiated myeloproliferative disorder, essential thrombocythemia), and 58 as cytopenic states (refractory anemia, pancytopenia). In each group, approximately one-third had a chromosomally-abnormal clone. For MPD, this had little predictive value, but in the cytopenias, 77% with a cytogenetic abnormality developed leukemia versus 39% without. Twelve cytopenic patients had multiple alterations involving more than 2 chromosomes and 11 died within 6 months, 9 with leukemia. Such patients may warrant consideration for aggressive chemotherapy before the appearance of clinical leukemia. Banding studies did not reveal any specific chromosome abnormalities consistently associated with these various preleukemic disorders, or with progression to leukemia, but nonrandom alterations were noted involving chromosomes 1, 5, 7-9, and 20 in the MPD group, and chromosomes 6 and 16 in the cytopenic patients. Correlation of these data with other reports indicates that certain cytogenetic abnormalities involving specific segments of the human genome confer a selective growth advantage on hemic clones which may present clinically as either preleukemia or leukemia.