Developments within genetic testing may increase demands on general practitioners to advise about family history of breast cancer (FHBC). This descriptive, qualitative study, investigated women's views of GP consultations about FHBC and their context. Participants were women from the general population who had experienced a primary care consultation in which FHBC was mentioned, as reported by the practitioner. Information about women's views of consultation context was obtained from 72 telephone interviews. More in-depth information about context and women's evaluations of FHBC consultations were obtained from a sub-sample of 20 face to face interviews. FHBC was rarely the main focus of consultations. It featured as a part of an overall discussion of breast symptoms, treatment and cancer risk. Women's understanding of heredity and disease was often idiosyncratic and might differ from biomedical models. A main task for clinicians appeared to be appropriate reassurance. Failure to reassure was linked to a failure to provide explanations at the woman's level of understanding. Clinicians cannot assume that patients share their perceptions of the mechanisms of disease and heredity. Instead they need to ascertain the patient's understanding and provide explanations accordingly. GPs need to have, or access, enough knowledge to inform and reassure.