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Carcinoma of the breast is thought to evolve through a sequential progression from normal to proliferative epithelium and eventually into carcinoma. Here lumpectomy specimens from five patients were studied, selected for the presence of ductal hyperplasia without atypia, atypical ductal hyperplasia, ductal carcinoma in situ, and invasive ductal carcinoma. Laser microdissection of tissue allowed precise sampling and direct correlation of phenotypic and genotypic changes. Analyses of the samples revealed an increasing mean number of chromosomal changes occurring with increasing histologic severity, and for the first time chromosomal abnormalities were demonstrated in ductal hyperplasia without atypia. Chromosomal changes found in each of the four histologic entities included gains on 10q, 12q, 16p, and 20q and loss on 13q. In ductal hyperplasia without atypia, gain on 20q as well as loss on 13q was detected with high frequency (four of five samples). Alterations identified in more than 50% of atypical ductal hyperplasia samples included gains on 3p, 8q, 15q, and 22q and loss on 16q. In ductal carcinoma in situ, gain of DNA on 1q and 17q and loss on 4q were additionally found, and in invasive ductal carcinoma, further gains on 6p, 10q, 11q13, and 17p were identified. The chromosomal alterations occurring in the different histopathologic lesions strongly suggest that these regions harbor tumor suppressor genes or oncogenes significant for the development of ductal carcinoma of the breast.