We designed a prospective trial to determine the long-term prognosis of video-assisted thoracoscopic (VATS) lobectomy versus conventional lobectomy for patients with clinical stage IA (T1N0M0) lung cancer. Between January 1993 and June 1994, 100 consecutive patients with clinical stage IA non-small cell lung carcinoma underwent either conventional lobectomy through an open thoracotomy (open group; n = 52) or VATS lobectomy (VATS group; n = 48). Lymph node dissections were performed in a similar manner in both groups. No significant differences were observed in the number of dissected lymph nodes between the 2 groups. Pathologic N1 and N2 disease was found in 3 and 1 patients, respectively, from the open group, and in 2 and 1 patients, respectively, from the VATS group. During the follow-up period, distant metastases and local or regional recurrences developed in 7 and 3 of the open group patients, respectively, and in 2 and 3 of the VATS group patients, respectively. Two and one of the open and VATS group patients developed second primary cancers, respectively. The overall survival rates 5 years after surgery were 85% and 90% in the open and VATS groups, respectively (log-rank test, p = 0.74; generalized Wilcoxon test, p = 0.91). VATS lobectomy with lymph node dissection achieved an excellent 5-year survival, similar to that achieved by the conventional approach.