Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) dates to Warthin's description of family G, which he began studying in 1895. Warthin's observations were not fully appreciated until 1966 when two families with an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern of nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (CRC) and endometrial cancer were described. This condition was first termed the "cancer family syndrome" and was later renamed HNPCC. Some have proposed that HNPCC consists of at least two syndromes: Lynch syndrome I, with hereditary predisposition for CRC having early (approximately 44 years) age of onset, a proclivity (70%) for the proximal colon, and an excess of synchronous and metachronous colonic cancers and Lynch syndrome II, featuring a similar colonic phenotype accompanied by a high risk for carcinoma of the endometrium. Transitional cell carcinoma of the ureter and renal pelvis and carcinomas of the stomach, small bowel, ovary, and pancreas also afflict some families. Current estimates indicate that HNPCC may account for as much as 6% of the total CRC burden. There are no known premonitory phenotypic signs or biomarkers of cancer susceptibility in the Lynch syndromes. This report will summarize current knowledge, with emphasis on the manner in which this knowledge can be employed effectively for diagnosis and management of HNPCC.