Many studies have shown that insulin-like growth factors (IGF-I & IGF-II) are implicated in the autocrine and paracrine growth of various tumors. Alterations in serum IGFs and IGF-binding proteins (IGFBPs) profiles have been reported in lung cancer. In this study, we measured serum levels of IGF-I and IGFBPs in 41 patients with lung cancer (small cell lung cancer, SCLC, 9; non-small cell lung cancer, NSCLC, 32) by radioimmunoassay and Western ligand blot (WLB). The serum IGF-I level in patients with lung cancer was significantly lower than in controls (207.9+/-62.6 vs 281.3+/-53.9 ng/mL, p<0.01). Patients with NSCLC showed significantly lower serum levels of IGF-I compared with SCLC patients (194.0+/-62.9 vs 258.4+/-27.8 ng/mL, p<0.01). Patients with squamous cell carcinoma tended to show lower serum levels of IGF-I than in those with adenocarcinoma (187.9+/-63.6 vs 215.9+/-59.5 ng/mL, p>0.05). The concentration of IGFBP-3 in lung cancer was 48% of that found in controls by WLB. The serum level of IGFBP-2 was markedly elevated in patients with lung cancer compared with controls (1303.7+/-618.0 vs 696.2+/-300.5, p<0.01). However, there was no significant difference between SCLC and NSCLC groups. This result showed that serum level of IGF-I/IGFBPs may be useful markers for diagnosing and identifying tumor types in lung cancer and further studies are needed.