Inherited breast cancer is a heterogenous group of diseases. We examined this heterogeneity in a prospective series of inherited breast and ovarian cancers, previously demonstrated to include 84% of inherited cancers. Ninety-two tumours (65 breast and 27 ovarian) in 82 patients from 70 kindreds were prospectively diagnosed. Fifteen of the breast cancers were in situ, 50 were infiltrating. 40 (49%) of the 82 women carried a BRCA1 mutation, whereas no mutation in BRCA2 was found. Approximately, two-thirds of the BRCA1 mutation carriers had one of the four most frequent Norwegian founder mutations. Ninety-five per cent of the epithelial ovarian cancers occurred in BRCA1 mutation carrying women versus 38% of infiltrating breast cancers and 7% of carcinoma in situ of the breast. The BRCA1 syndrome was phenotypically distinct with invasive, high grade, oestrogen receptor-negative breast cancers and epithelial ovarian cancers. Non-BRCA1/2 inherited breast cancers included carcinoma in situ and lobular carcinoma and were frequently bilateral. Non-BRCA1/2 inherited breast cancer is not associated with epithelial ovarian cancer and in breast cancers has distinct biological characteristics, indicating that the different subgroups of inherited breast cancer may need different healthcare services.