The retinoblastoma gene can be considered a model for a class of recessive human cancer genes that have a ``suppressor'' or ``regulatory'' function. The loss or inactivation of both alleles of this gene appears to be a primary mechanism in the development of retinoblastoma. Such a mechanism is in direct contrast to that of putative human oncogenes which are thought to induce tumorigenesis following activation or alteration. The high incidence of second primary tumors among patients who inherit one inactive retinoblastoma allele also suggests that this cancer gene plays a key role in the etiology of several other primary malignancies. Finally, the observation that extra nonrandom copies of specific chromosomal regions occur in some of these tumors provides circumstantial evidence that an ``expressor'' gene (possibly an oncogene) may be involved in retinoblastoma development.