Systematic collection of family history is a prerequisite for identifying genetic risk. This study reviewed tools applicable to the primary care assessment of family history of breast, colorectal, ovarian, and prostate cancer. MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, and Cochrane Central were searched for publications. All primary study designs were included. Characteristics of the studies, the family history collection tools, and the setting were evaluated. Of 40 eligible studies, 18 relevant family history tools were identified, with 11 developed for use in primary care. Most collected information on more than one cancer and on affected relatives used self-administered questionnaires and paper-based formats. Eleven tools had been evaluated relative to current practice, demonstrating 46-78% improvement in data recording over family history recording in patient charts and 75-100% agreement with structured genetic interviews. Few tools have been developed specifically for primary care settings. The few that have been evaluated performed well. The very limited evidence, which depends in part on extrapolation from studies in settings other than primary care, suggests that systematic tools may add significant family health information compared with current primary care practice. The effect of their use on health outcomes has not been evaluated.