We assessed the association between breast cancer (BC) and colorectal cancer (CRC) from referral pattern to the Regional Genetics Service including molecular analysis. Hospital computer records and/or department referral books were used to identify cases referred to the Regional Genetic Service during a 16-year period (1990-2005 inclusive). All files were reviewed along with associated demographic data, risk assessments, referral details and results from mutation testing. Families were assessed for hereditary breast and colorectal cancer (HBCC) criteria, and all families with eligible individuals were tested for the 1100delC mutation in CHEK2. A total of 8612 families were identified. One hundred and sixteen of 1631 (7.5%) families with a primary referral for CRC fulfilled the criteria for HBCC, whereas only 68/6981 (1%) BC referrals fulfilled these criteria. Blood samples were obtained from 113 individuals from 83/184 families. Only 1/113 (1%) has screened positive for the CHEK2 mutation, whereas 14 (17%) families segregate BRCA1/2 mutations and at least 7 (8.5%) carry MLH1/MSH2 mutations. HBCC syndrome, if it exists as a separate entity, is not likely to be due to CHEK2 mutations. Many families are explicable by existing high-penetrance genes, and further work is necessary to elucidate whether the remainder is due to chance or as yet undiscovered genes. © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation.