We evaluate the validity of the family history of breast cancer reported by the patient and the number of families and individuals at risk and potentially benefiting from surveillance. Family history of cancer was systematically screened in three different series of breast cancer patients. Breast cancer families were defined by the selection criterion of at least three first- or second-degree relatives with breast or ovarian cancer (including the proband) and their genealogy and cancer diagnoses were confirmed. Family history of breast or ovarian cancer was reported by approximately 30% of the patients and 7-9% were classified as breast cancer families. On average, there were 3.1 healthy female (age: 20-70 years) first degree relatives per family potentially at high risk. Index patients reported 87% of all confirmed diagnoses and the primary site was correct in 93-95% of the reported cases. The incompleteness and errors in accuracy should be considered in epidemiological studies and verification of the diagnoses is important when deciding clinical management.