Some types of cancer have been associated with abnormal DNA fingerprinting. We used random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) to generate fingerprints that detect genomic alterations in human breast cancer. Primers were designed by choosing sequences involved in the development of DNA mutations. Seventeen primers in 44 different combinations were used to screen a total of 6 breast cancer DNA/normal DNA pairs and 6 uveal melanoma DNA/normal DNA pairs. Forty-five percent of these combinations reliably detected quantitative differences in the breast cancer pairs, while only 18% of these combinations detected differences in the uveal melanoma pairs. Fourteen (32%) and 12 (27%) primers generated a smear or did not produce any band patterns in the first and second cases, respectively. Taking into account the ability of RAPD to screen the whole genome, our results suggest that the genomic damage in breast cancer is significantly higher than in uveal melanoma. Our study confirms other reports that the molecular karyotypes produced with random priming, called amplotypes, are very useful for assessing genomic damage in cancer. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.