Identification of hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) indicates theoretical life-time risks of 50% for the descendants of an affected family member and of 100% for the true gene carriers. However, besides colorectal cancer (CRC), many other cancer types and sites are also involved, which gives reason to evaluate the magnitude of risk for various other cancer types. A detailed pedigree analysis of 40 families with HNPCC identified 414 patients affected with cancer. A Kaplan-Meier life-table analysis for the cumulative risk of various cancers was performed on the basis of the 293 putative gene carriers who had adequate clinical and histological documentation of their tumors. Cumulative risks were highest for colorectal (78%) and endometrial cancers (43%, women only), followed by gastric, biliary tract, urinary tract and ovarian cancers (19-9%). For the other probably HNPCC-related cancer types, such as small bowel carcinoma and brain tumors, the life-time risk was only 1%. The risk of any metachronous cancer reached 90% after treatment of CRC and 75% after endometrial cancer; the second tumor was most often a new CRC or endometrial cancer. CRC remains the most important cancer type in the HNPCC syndrome but does not develop in all gene carriers. This makes the decision of possible prophylactic colectomy for test-detected gene carriers difficult. Of the many other cancer types involved, at least endometrial cancer is common enough to necessitate a specific surveillance program. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.