A number of genes are known to be involved in inherited susceptibility to breast and/or ovarian cancer. In the context of high-risk families the most important genes are BRCA1 on chromosome 17q, which is associated with a high penetrance of both breast and ovarian cancer, and BRCA2 on chromosome 13q, which causes a high risk of breast cancer but a lower risk of ovarian cancer. Other high-risk cancer genes that confer increased risks of breast or ovarian cancer in addition to other cancers include the hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer genes and the TP53 gene, which causes breast cancer as part of the Li-Fraumeni syndrome. The predisposing mutations in these genes are relatively rare in the population. More common genes which are associated with an increased, but lower, risk of breast cancer are the ataxiatelangiectasia gene and the HRAS1 gene. This paper reviews recent progress in mapping and cloning of these susceptibility genes, and provides estimates of the cancer risks associated with each gene and the frequency of predisposing mutations.