Family history of breast cancer is a more important aspect of clinical management following the discovery of the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. The authors developed a short questionnaire to categorize risk according to breast cancer history in close relatives. It was completed by 559 women attending for screening mammograms in Sydney, Australia. Twenty-three per cent reported a family history sufficient to be classified at a moderately increased or potentially high risk according to national guidelines (category II or III). Only 29 women (5%) made errors such that their risk category could not be determined. Validation of responses from 89 women, 44 from category II or III, found 100% agreement with classification after interview by a genetic counsellor. This questionnaire has the potential to accurately triage risk based on a woman's knowledge of her family history, and could be used in a variety of settings to identify women who may require further assessment, management and referral advice.