Familial clustering of cancer is not uncommon. The frequency of familial colorectal cancer was estimated by taking family histories from 100 patients presenting with apparently sporadic colorectal cancer. Compared with controls, the relative risk of a positive family history for colorectal cancer was 4.6. Life-table methods were used to examine the observed to expected mortality from colorectal cancer. Overall there was a fourfold increase in mortality rate (P less than 0.0001), which was greatest in female relatives of patients with colonic cancer (P less than 0.001). Three families with dominant inheritance of colorectal cancer and one family with Lynch type II syndrome were identified. Nine per cent of patients had siblings who had developed colorectal cancer a median of 4 years before the diagnosis of the index patient (range 1-17 years). It is recommended that a careful family history should be obtained from all patients with colorectal cancer. Where a positive history is obtained a geneticist may determine empirical risks for the development of colorectal cancer and the appropriate method of surveillance may be selected.