Cancer research has previously focused on the identification of specific genes and pathways responsible for cancer initiation and progression based on the prevailing viewpoint that cancer is caused by a stepwise accumulation of genetic aberrations. This viewpoint, however, is not consistent with the clinical finding that tumors display high levels of genetic heterogeneity and distinctive karyotypes. We show that chromosomal instability primarily generates stochastic karyotypic changes leading to the random progression of cancer. This was accomplished by tracing karyotypic patterns of individual cells that contained either defective genes responsible for genome integrity or were challenged by onco-proteins or carcinogens that destabilized the genome. Analysis included the tracing of patterns of karyotypic evolution during different stages of cellular immortalization. This study revealed that non-clonal chromosomal aberrations (NCCAs) (both aneuploidy and structural aberrations) and not recurrent clonal chromosomal aberrations (CCAs) are directly linked to genomic instability and karyotypic evolution. Discovery of “transitional CCAs” during in vitro immortalization clearly demonstrates that karyotypic evolution in solid tumors is not a continuous process. NCCAs and their dynamic interplay with CCAs create infinite genomic combinations leading to clonal diversity necessary for cancer cell evolution. The karyotypic chaos observed within the cell crisis stage prior to establishment of the immortalization further supports the ultimate importance of genetic aberrations at the karyotypic or genome level. Therefore, genomic instability generated NCCAs are a key driving force in cancer progression. The dynamic relationship between NCCAs and CCAs provides a mechanism underlying chromosomal based cancer evolution and could have broad clinical applications. J. Cell. Physiol. 208: 461–472, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.