Germ-line changes in the cancer-predisposition gene BRCA2 are found in a small proportion of breast cancers. Mutations in the BRCA2 gene have been studied mainly in families with high risk of breast cancer in females, and male breast cancer also has been associated with BRCA2 mutations. The importance of germ-line BRCA2 mutations in individuals without a family history of breast cancer is unknown. The same BRCA2 mutation has been found in 16/21 Icelandic breast cancer families, indicating a founder effect. We determined the frequency of this mutation, 999del5, in 1,182 Icelanders, comprising 520 randomly selected individuals from the population and a series of 632 female breast cancer patients (61.4% of patients diagnosed during the study period) and all male breast cancer patients diagnosed during the past 40 years. We detected the 999del5 germ-line mutation in 0.6% of the population, in 7.7% of female breast cancer patients, and in 40% of males with breast cancer. The mutation was strongly associated with onset of female breast cancer at age <50 years, but its penetrance and expression are varied. A number of cancers other than breast cancer were found to be increased in relatives of mutation carriers, including those with prostate and pancreatic cancer. Furthermore, germ-line BRCA2 mutation can be present without a strong family history of breast cancer. Comparison of the age at onset for mother/daughter pairs with the 999del5 mutation and breast cancer indicates that age at onset is decreasing in the younger generation. Increase in breast cancer incidence and lower age at onset suggest a possible contributing environmental factor.