Patients who are homozygous for ataxia-telangiectasia have an exceptionally high incidence of cancer. In a group of families expected to have a high proportion of heterozygotes for ataxia-telangiectasia, we tested the hypothesis that such heterozygotes, estimated to make up 0.68 to 7.7 percent of the U.S. white population, also have an excess cancer risk. Retrospective cancer incidence rates in adult blood relatives of patients with ataxia-telangiectasia in 110 white non-Amish families were significantly elevated over the incidence rates in spouse controls (rate ratios, 1.6 for men [P = 0.032]; 2.0 for women [P = 0.013]). For persons who are heterozygous for ataxia-telangiectasia, the relative risk of cancer was estimated to be 2.3 for men (P = 0.014) and 3.1 for women (P = 0.004). Breast cancer in women was the cancer most clearly associated with heterozygosity for ataxia-telangiectasia (rate ratio, 3.0 [P = 0.028]; heterozygote relative risk, 6.8 [P = 0.006]). On the basis of this estimated relative risk of 6.8 and an estimated heterozygote frequency in the general population of 1.4 percent, 8.8 percent of patients with breast cancer in the U.S. white population would be heterozygous for ataxia-telangiectasia. We conclude that heterozygous carriers of the gene for ataxia-telangiectasia have an excess risk of cancer, particularly breast cancer in women.