We identified four families in which we suspected the presence of genetic factors predisposing them to cancer. We examined one family with features suggesting Li-Fraumeni syndrome for the presence of a germline p53 mutation in 13 of its members. To detect germline p53 mutations we performed polymerase chain reaction/nonradioisotopic single-strand conformation polymorphism and DNA sequencing analysis on exons 4-9 of the p53 gene. Mutated polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis was also performed on exon 5 to confirm the mutation identified by the sequencing analysis. A novel germline p53 mutation was identified at codon 133 (ATG-->AGG) in exon 5, resulting in the substitution of arginine for methionine, in all four cancer-affected individuals and in three apparently healthy individuals. We also analyzed tumor specimens for additional p53 mutations in the wild-type alleles using the same methods. However, heterozygosity was retained, and no other additional mutations in the wild-type allele were identified in any of the tumor tissues. It is possible that additional mutations in the wild-type allele are not always necessary for the loss of tumor suppressor functions. This study presents serious clinical and ethical problems about the predictive value of identifying germline p53 mutations in presymptomatic carriers. However, accurate predictive testing will be very useful in identifying unaffected individuals who are at increased risk of developing cancer and in detecting cancer at an early stage.