To clarify the important role of the tumor-suppressor gene p53 in maintaining genetic integrity, we estimated chromosome instability and staining of overexpressed p53 protein in the same cells of five primary breast carcinomas. The method included both fluorescence immunohistochemistry and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) on sections from formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded breast cancer tissue. By using a centromeric FISH probe for chromosome 17 on interphase cells in these sections, we showed that cells with abnormal p53 protein expression had a statistically significant higher number of chromosome 17 than did cells with no p53 protein staining in the same samples as well as cells in four other tumor samples with no p53 protein staining. The samples identified positive for p53 abnormality by immunostaining were shown to have p53 mutation by constant denaturing gel electrophoresis analysis and DNA sequencing. These mutated samples were characterized by high DNA index, high S-phase, abnormal karyotype, and aneuploidy. The results strongly implicate p53 mutation as a cause for chromosomal instability and a crucial step in mammary carcinogenesis.