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A video of introductory information about inherited susceptibility to breast cancer was made in consultation with clinicians in four Scottish cancer family clinics. One hundred and twenty-eight women, newly referred for breast cancer risk counselling were randomized to receive the video before (n = 66) or after (n = 62) counselling. Data were collected before randomization at clinic and by postal follow-up at 1 month. The Video Before group had shorter consultations with the breast surgeon (mean = 11.8 min+/-5.4 vs 14.6+/-7.2 for the Video After group). There was no difference between the groups in the accuracy of their risk estimate after counselling, although the Video Before group scored higher for self-reported (Z= 3.65, d.f. = 1, P < 0.01) and objectively assessed understanding (Z= 2.91, d.f. = 1, P < 0.01). At 1 month follow-up, the Video Before group were less likely to underestimate their risk estimate (38% vs 18%; chi2 = 4.62, d.f. = 1, P< 0.05), but there was then no difference between the groups in subjective or objective understanding. Use of the video was not associated with increased distress (GHQ, Spielberger State Anxiety) and was associated with greater satisfaction with the information given at the clinic. This study supports the value of videotape as a method of giving information to prepare women for breast cancer risk counselling. Observations of misunderstandings and distress emphasize the video should be seen as an aid to, not a substitute, for communications at the clinic.