Loss of heterozygosity (LOH) of the wild-type BRCA1/2 allele is a reproducible event in breast tumors of BRCA1/2 mutation carriers, but it is unknown if this allelic loss occurs only in association with recognizable histopathologic abnormalities. We evaluated the early genomic changes that occur in the mammary glands of patients with increased predisposition to breast cancer due to germline mutations in the BRCA1/2 genes. We tested the hypothesis that these genomic changes may be detected, not only in histologically abnormal and malignant breast tissues, but also in morphologically normal tissues and in areas with pathologically benign changes. Samples were obtained from five breast cancer patients: four BRCA1 carriers and one BRCA2 carrier. In each case, nontumor tissue areas surrounding the tumor or from other locations of the breast were isolated using laser capture microdissection. We evaluated 29 areas showing normal terminal ductal lobular units (TDLUs) or histopathologically benign changes (in particular, sclerosing adenosis), using a panel of polymorphic dinucleotide microsatellite markers for the BRCA1 gene and other chromosome 17 loci, for the BRCA2 gene and other chromosome 13 loci, and for the FHIT gene on 3p14.2. Overall, we analyzed a total of 105 samples of nontumor tissues; LOH was detected in 59 of the 105 (56%). In the normal TDLUs, 15 of 30 samples (50%) showed LOH; in the tissues with benign proliferative changes, such as sclerosing adenosis, 44 of 75 samples showed LOH (59%). Our results suggest that there is a field effect of early genetic events preceding morphologic changes in the mammary glands of BRCA mutation carriers.