To define the prevalence and relative contributions of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations among African American families with breast cancer, we analyzed 28 DNA samples from patients identified through two oncology clinics. The entire coding regions of BRCA1 and BRCA2 were screened by protein truncation test, heteroduplex analysis, or single-stranded conformation polymorphism followed by DNA sequencing of variant bands. Deleterious protein-truncating BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations were identified in five patients or 18% of the entire cohort. Only 8% (1 of 13) of women with a family history of breast cancer, but no ovarian cancer, had mutations. The mutation rates were higher for women from families with a history of breast cancer and at least one ovarian cancer (three of six, 50%). One woman with a family history of undocumented cancers was also found to carry a deleterious mutation in BRCA2. The spectrum of mutations was unique in that one novel BRCA1 mutation (1625del5) and three novel BRCA2 mutations (1536del4, 6696delTC, and 7795delCT) were identified. No recurrent mutations were identified in this cohort, although one BRCA2 (2816insA) mutation had been previously reported. In addition, two BRCA1 and four BRCA2 missense mutations of unknown significance were identified, one of which was novel. Taken together with our previous report on recurrent mutations seen in unrelated families, we conclude that African Americans have a unique mutation spectrum in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but recurrent mutations are likely to be more widely dispersed and therefore not readily identifiable in this population.