Individuals differ in their inherited tendency to develop cancer. Major single-gene defects that cause early cancer onset have been known for many years from their inheritance patterns, and inherited defects that have weaker effects on predisposition were also suspected to exist. Recent progress in cancer genetics has identified specific loci that are involved in cancer progression, many of which have key roles in DNA repair, cell-cycle control and cell-death pathways. Those loci, which are often mutated somatically during cancer progression, sometimes also contain inherited mutations. Recent genetic studies and quantitative population-genetic analyses provide a framework for understanding the frequency of inherited mutations and the consequences of these mutations for increased predisposition to cancer.