Identifying the complete repertoire of genes and genetic variants that regulate the pathogenesis and progression of human disease is a central goal of post-genomic biomedical research. In cancer, recent studies have shown that genome-wide association studies can be successfully used to identify germline polymorphisms associated with an individual's susceptibility to malignancy. In parallel to these reports, substantial work has also shown that patterns of somatic alterations in human tumors can be successfully employed to predict disease prognosis and treatment response. A paper by Van Ness et al. published this month in BMC Medicine reports the initial results of a multi-institutional consortium for multiple myeloma designed to evaluate the role of germline polymorphisms in influencing multiple myeloma clinical outcome. Applying a custom-designed single nucleotide polymorphism microarray to two separate patient cohorts, the investigators successfully identified specific combinations of germline polymorphisms significantly associated with early clinical relapse. These results raise the exciting possibility that besides somatically acquired alterations, germline genetic background may also exert an important influence on cancer patient prognosis and outcome. Future 'personalized medicine' strategies for cancer may thus require incorporating genomic information from both tumor cells and the non-malignant patient genome. © 2008 Tan; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.