To investigate whether high rates of chromosomal aberrations (CAs), sister chromatid exchange (SCE), or micronuclei(MN) in peripheral lymphocytes indicate an increased risk for subsequent cancer, a prospective cohort study of 2.969 subjects cytogenetically examined between 1970 and 1988 in four Swedish, two Finnish, and two Norwegian laboratories was initiated. To standardize for the interlaboratory variation, the results of the three cytogenetic endpoints were trichotomized for each laboratory into "low" (1st to 33rd percentile), "medium" (34th to 66th percentile), and "high" (67th to 100th percentile). Thirty-four cancers had been diagnosed in the cohort during the observation period (1970 to 1985). The point-estimates of the standardized morbidity ratio (SMR) in the three CA strata were 90, 92, and 180, respectively. This trend for a positive association was not statistically significant (p = 0.06). There was no significant trend between SMR and the trichotomized rates of SCE. In the subcohort examined for MN only two cases of cancer had been diagnosed until now. If subjects with "high" frequencies of CA or SCE have a two-fold (or greater) risk of developing cancer as compared with individuals who have "medium" or "low" frequencies, we estimate that there is a likelihood of 80% and 70%, respectively, that this will be detectable as significant (p < 0.05) differences after a further follow-up period of 5 years. Weaker associations between cancer risk and the cytogenetic endpoints would not be possible to evaluate until even later follow-ups.