Cytogenetic assays in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) have been used extensively to survey the exposure of humans to genotoxic agents. The conceptual basis for this has been the hypothesis that the extent of genetic damage in PBL reflects critical events for carcinogenic processes in target tissues. Until now, no follow-up studies have been performed to assess the predictive value of these methods for subsequent cancer risk. In an ongoing Nordic cohort study of cancer incidence, 3182 subjects were examined between 1970 and 1988 for chromosomal aberrations (CA), sister chromatid exchange or micronuclei in PBL. In order to standardize for the interlaboratory variation, the results were trichotomized for each laboratory into three strata: low (1-33 percentile), medium (34-66 percentile), or high (67-100 percentile). In this second follow-up, a total of 85 cancers were diagnosed during the observation period (1970-1991). There was no significant trend in the standardized incidence ratio with the frequencies of sister chromatid exchange or micronuclei, but the data for these parameters are still too limited to allow firm conclusions. There was a statistically significant linear trend (P = 0.0009) in CA strata with regard to subsequent cancer risk. The point estimates of the standardized incidence ratio in the three CA strata were 0.9, 0.7, and 2.1, respectively. Thus, an increased level of chromosome breakage appears to be a relevant biomarker of future cancer risk.