Linkage of early-onset familial breast and ovarian cancer to 11 markers on chromosome 17q12-q21 defines an 8-cM region which is very likely to include the disease gene BRCA 1. The most closely linked marker is D17S579, a highly informative CA repeat polymorphism. D17S579 has no recombinants with inherited breast or ovarian cancer in 79 informative meioses in the seven families with early-onset disease (lod score 9.12 at zero recombination). There is no evidence for linkage heterogeneity in the families with early-onset disease. The proportion of older-onset breast cancer attributable to BRCA 1 is not yet determinable, because both inherited and sporadic cases occur in older-onset families.