We assessed the validity of information reported by patients with breast cancer on cancer in first- and second-degree relatives. In Toronto, Canada, 165 patients completed mailed questionnaires about cancer in relatives and were then interviewed in person. Their reports were compared with relatives' hospital records, cancer registry or death records for presence of cancer, site and age at diagnosis. Questionnaire and interview reports agreed with records for 82-96% of reports on first-degree and 48-80% on second-degree relatives. Proband reports of cancer sites in first-degree relatives were generally accurate (breast 99%, ovary 100%, prostate 85%, colon 93%). Reports of cancer sites in second-degree relatives were accurate for prostate cancer but only for 85% of breast and 72% of colon cancers. Age at diagnosis of breast cancer was correct in 92% of cases in first-degree and 54% in second-degree relatives. The interview contributed additional information about the presence of cancer in second-degree relatives, and the site and age at diagnosis in first- and second-degree relatives. In a similar population the questionnaire alone should yield adequate data for identifying families that warrant further investigation.