Different types of leukemia are characterized by different patterns of nonrandom chromosomal aberrations, but the frequencies with which the various karyotypic subtypes are seen differ among cytogenetic laboratories, countries, and geographic regions. During the 12-yr period 1986-1997, a total of 2054 children ( or = 47 chromosomes was the most frequent cytogenetic subgroup (63%), with massive hyperdiploidy (> or = 52 chromosomes) and chromosome numbers in the tri- and tetraploid range, constituting 46% of all abnormal cases. ALL-associated translocations were found at low frequencies [11q23 translocations in 3.7%, t(9;22)(q34;q11) or del(22q) in 2.2%, t(4; 11)(q21;q23) in 2.0%, t(11;19)(q23;p13) in 1.40%, t(1;19)(q23;p13) in 1.3%, and t(8;14)(q24;q32) in 1%]. Two rearrangements not previously reported in childhood ALL, but recurrent in this population-based material, were identified: der(7;9)(q10;q10) and t(9;12)(q22;p11-12), the molecular genetic consequences of which are unknown. Hyperdiploid childhood leukemias, especially those with a high hyperdiploid modal number, thus seem to be more frequent and ALL-specific translocations less frequent in the Nordic countries than in other geographic regions. Although technical differences among laboratories cannot be ruled out as a cause of at least some of the frequency differences observed compared with previous studies, systematic differences in exposure to environmental oncogenic factors or in geographic/ethnic origin are an intriguing possibility.