Knudson's 'two-hit' hypothesis has provided extremely important insights into the pathogenesis of tumors in autosomal dominant tumor predisposition syndromes, but recent evidence suggests that some such tumors may occur without a 'second hit' or require more than two mutations. Inactivation of both RB1 alleles appears to be insufficient by itself to cause malignancy in the tumors that develop in patients with hereditary retinoblastoma. On the other hand, certain tumors in patients with tuberous sclerosis complex appear to develop in haploinsufficient tissues that do not have 'second hit' mutations of a tuberous sclerosis gene. The molecular pathogenesis of certain other tumors in patients with tuberous sclerosis complex or neurofibromatosis 1 may not be fully explained by the 'two-hit' hypothesis either. Hereditary tumors, like non-hereditary tumors, may arise by a variety of molecular mechanisms, with loss of both alleles of a particular tumor suppressor gene being a frequent, but not invariably necessary or sufficient, event. Four models are presented to explain how various tumors may arise in patients with inherited tumor predisposition syndromes such as hereditary retinoblastoma, tuberous sclerosis complex or neurofibromatosis 1. Even tumors of one particular type may develop by more than one mechanism.