Prostate cancer occurs more frequently in U.S. blacks than whites. A population-based case-control study which investigated the association with family history of cancer was carried out among 981 men (479 black, 502 white) with pathologically confirmed prostate cancer, diagnosed between August 1, 1986, and April 30, 1989, and 1,315 controls (594 black, 721 white). Study subjects, aged 40-79, resided in Atlanta, Detroit, and 10 counties in New Jersey, geographic areas covered by population-based cancer registries. Prostate cancer risk was significantly elevated among those who reported a history of prostate cancer in first-degree relatives (O.R. = 3.2; 95% C.I.: 2.0-5.0), with blacks and whites having similarly elevated risks. These risks were unchanged by statistical adjustment for job-related socio-economic status, education, income, and marital status. Overall, the ORs associated with history of prostate cancer in fathers and brothers were 2.5 (95% C.I.: 1.5-4.2) and 5.3 (95% C.I.: 2.3-12.5), respectively. Risks associated with a family history of prostate cancer were consistently elevated among younger and older subjects. Only small non-significant excesses of prostate cancer risk were associated with a family history of breast, colorectal, or other cancers. While familial occurrence is a key risk factor for prostate cancer and likely to be genetically based, the similar familial risks among blacks and whites suggest that the ethnic disparity in incidence is influenced by environmental factors.