Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) describes the condition of a disparate group of families that have in common a predisposition to colorectal cancer in the absence of a premalignant phenotype. The genetic basis of this disease has been linked to mutations in genes associated with DNA mismatch repair. A large proportion of families harbor changes in one of two genes, hMSH2 and hMLH1. Approximately 35% of families in which the diagnosis is based on the Amsterdam criteria do not appear to harbor mutations in DNA-mismatch-repair genes. In this report we present data from a large series of families with HNPCC and indicate that there are subtle differences between families that harbor germline changes in hMSH2 and families that harbor hMLH1 mutations. Furthermore, there are differences between the mutation-positive group (hMSH2 and hMLH1 combined) of families and the mutation-negative group of families. The major findings identified in this study focus primarily on the extracolonic disease profile observed between the mutation-positive families and the mutation-negative families. Breast cancer was not significantly overrepresented in the hMSH2 mutation-positive group but was overrepresented in the hMLH1 mutation-positive group and in the mutation-negative group. Prostate cancer was not overrepresented in the mutation-positive groups but was overrepresented in the mutation-negative group. In age at diagnosis of colorectal cancer, there was no difference between the hMSH2 mutation-positive group and the hMLH1 mutation-positive group, but there was a significant difference between these two groups and the mutation-negative group.