We studied 670 persons in 34 kindreds by flexible proctosigmoidoscopic examination (60 cm) to determine how frequently colorectal adenomas and cancers result from an inherited susceptibility. Kindreds were selected through either a single person with an adenomatous polyp or a cluster of relatives with colonic cancer. The kindreds all had common colorectal cancers, not the rare inherited conditions familial polyposis coli and nonpolyposis inherited colorectal cancer. Likelihood analysis strongly supported the dominant inheritance of a susceptibility to colorectal adenomas and cancers, with a gene frequency of 19 percent. According to the most likely genetic model, adenomatous polyps and colorectal cancers occur only in genetically susceptible persons; however, the 95 percent confidence interval for this proportion was 53 to 100 percent. These results suggest that an inherited susceptibility to colonic adenomatous polyps and colorectal cancer is common and that it is responsible for the majority of colonic neoplasms observed clinically. The results also reinforce suggestions that first-degree relatives of patients with colorectal cancer should be screened for colonic tumors. This evidence of an inherited susceptibility to a cancer with well-recognized environmental risk factors supports the hypothesis that genetic and environmental factors interact in the formation and transformation of polyps.