Comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) is a molecular cytogenetic technique that allows the entire genome of a tumor to be surveyed for gains and losses of DNA copy sequences. A limited number of studies reporting the use of this technique in adult adrenocortical tumors have yielded conflicting results. In this study we performed CGH analysis on 13 malignant, 18 benign, and 1 tumor of indeterminate malignant potential with the aim of identifying genetic loci consistently implicated in the development and progression of adrenocortical tumors. Tissue samples from 32 patients with histologically proven adrenocortical tumors were available for CGH analysis. CGH changes were seen in all cancers, 11 of 18 (61%) adenomas, and the 1 tumor of indeterminate malignant potential. Of the adrenal cancers, the most common gains were seen on chromosomes 5 (46%), 12 (38%), 19 (31%), and 4 (31%). Losses were most frequently seen at 1p (62%), 17p (54%), 22 (38%), 2q (31%), and 11q (31%). Of the benign adenomas, the most common change was gain of 4q (22%). Mann-Whitney analysis showed a highly significant difference between the cancer group (mean changes, 7.6) and the adenoma group (mean changes, 1.1) for the number of observed CGH changes (P < 0.01). Logistic regression analysis showed that the number of CGH changes was highly predictive of tumor type (P < 0.01). This study has identified several chromosomal loci implicated in adrenocortical tumorigenesis. Activation of a protooncogene(s) on chromosome 4 may be an early event, with progression from adenoma to carcinoma involving activation of oncogenes on chromosomes 5 and 12 and inactivation of tumor suppressor genes on chromosome arms 1p and 17p.