The t(14;18)(q32;q21) chromosomal translocation is observed in more than 75% of cases of follicular lymphoma. Several additional chromosomal abnormalities, which might contribute to tumor progression, have also been described. However, prognostic implications of cytogenetic features in follicular lymphoma have not been clearly established. In an attempt to correlate cytogenetic findings with clinical outcome, we have studied survival and risk of transformation into a more aggressive lymphoma in 66 follicular lymphoma patients from whom a lymph node had been karyotyped at the time of diagnosis. A t(14;18) was the most common abnormality, having been observed in 51 patients (77%), but this showed no correlation with clinical outcome. Seventeen other recurrent numerical or structural abnormalities were identified in more than 10% of the patients. A high percentage of cells (> or = 90%) with abnormal metaphases and a number of chromosomal breaks higher than 6 were associated with a poor survival (P > .01 each). Patients with an abnormality of chromosome region 1p21–22 (P < .01), of 6q23–26 (P < .001), or of the short arm of chromosome 17 (P < .001) had a significantly shorter survival in univariate analysis. Multivariate analysis identified a break at 6q23–26 (P = .01) and 17p (P = .01) as independent prognostic factors in this population. The risk of transformation into a diffuse large-cell lymphoma was significantly higher in patients with either a 6q23–26 (P < .001) or a 17p (P < .01) abnormality. Chromosomal analysis of follicular lymphoma at the time of diagnosis can thus provide important information about the risk of transformation and survival.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)