In order to evaluate the role of inherited BRCA2 mutations in American families--particularly the appearance in America of European founder mutations--the BRCA2 coding sequence, 5' UTR, and 3' UTR were screened in 22 Caucasian American kindreds with four or more cases of breast or ovarian cancer. Six mutations were found that cause a premature-termination codon; four of them have been reported elsewhere, and two are novel. In the four families with previously seen mutations, the distinct lineages at high risk of cancer were of Dutch, German, Irish, and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry; mutations in Europe reflect these ancestries. The families with novel mutations were Puerto Rican Hispanic (exon 9 deletion 995delCAAAT) and Ashkenazi Jewish (exon 11 deletion 6425delTT). Among female BRCA2-mutation carriers, risks of breast cancer were 32% by age 50 years, 67% by age 70 years, and 80% by age 90 years, yielding a lifetime risk similar to that for BRCA1 but an older distribution of ages at onset. BRCA2 families also included multiple cases of cancers of the male breast (six cases), ovary (three cases), fallopian tube (two cases), pancreas (three cases), bladder (two cases), and prostate (two cases). Among 17 Ashkenazi Jewish families with four or more breast or ovarian cancers, 9 families (including 3 with ovarian cancer and 1 with male breast cancer) carried none of the three ancient mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2. To date, both BRCA2 and BRCA1 have been screened by SSCA, supplemented by the protein-truncation test, in 48 families with four or more breast or ovarian cancers. Mutations have been detected in BRCA1 in 33 families, in BRCA2 in 6 families, and in neither gene in 9 families, suggesting both the probable cryptic nature of some mutations and the likelihood of at least one other BRCA gene.