Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) and familial adenomatosis polyposis (FAP) are well-known high-risk cancer syndromes. Hereditary colorectal cancer (HCRC) with at least three relatives with colorectal cancer and a dominant pattern of inheritance but with no specifications for age at onset and two close relatives with colorectal cancer (TCR) are other forms of familial clustering known to carry an increased risk of the disease. The frequency of the total burden of familial colorectal cancer is not well known. We therefore investigated the family history of 400/411 (97%) eligible patients with recently diagnosed colorectal cancer in Västmanland county, Sweden, during a 3-year period. Records or death certificates confirmed the diagnoses of relatives. Five patients (1.2%, 95% CI 0.15-2.2) were diagnosed as having HNPCC, eight (1.9%, 95% CI 0.6-3.2) as having HCRC and thirty-four (8.3%, 95% CI 5.6-11.0) were identified as having TCR. In total, 47 patients (11.4%, 95% CI 8.3-14.5) were found to have a contributing familial background. The implication is thus that every ninth patient with colorectal cancer represents a highly or intermediately increased risk of the disease among relatives. We conclude that the low frequency of individuals identified by family history alone makes the establishment of surveillance programs feasible.