The BRCA1 gene from individuals at risk of breast and ovarian cancers can be screened for the presence of mutations. However, the cancer association of most alleles carrying missense mutations is unknown, thus creating significant problems for genetic counseling. To increase our ability to identify cancer-associated mutations in BRCA1, we set out to use the principles of protein three-dimensional structure as well as the correlation between the cancer-associated mutations and those that abolish transcriptional activation. Thirty-one of 37 missense mutations of known impact on the transcriptional activation function of BRCA1 are readily rationalized in structural terms. Loss-of-function mutations involve nonconservative changes in the core of the BRCA1 C-terminus (BRCT) fold or are localized in a groove that presumably forms a binding site involved in the transcriptional activation by BRCA1; mutations that do not abolish transcriptional activation are either conservative changes in the core or are on the surface outside of the putative binding site. Next, structure-based rules for predicting functional consequences of a given missense mutation were applied to 57 germ-line BRCA1 variants of unknown cancer association. Such a structure-based approach may be helpful in an integrated effort to identify mutations that predispose individuals to cancer.