Interleukin(IL)-2 is a T helper (Th) 1 type cytokine that has been shown to play an important role in antitumour immune responses. In this study, the prognostic significance of serum IL-2 levels was investigated in 60 advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients. IL-2 serum levels were determined before chemotherapy, at the end of chemotherapy and during follow-up, using a commercially available enzyme-linked immunoadsorbent assay kit. The results were analysed according to the response to therapy and were used to generate a model predicting overall survival and time to treatment failure. All 60 patients were shown to have higher IL-2 serum levels than controls (P < 0.0001). Stage IV patients had significantly lower IL-2 levels than stage III patients (P < 0.0001), although they were still significantly higher than controls (P < 0.0001). It is interesting that, when patients were divided into responders and non-responders according to the response to therapy, the former were shown to have significantly higher pre-chemotherapy levels than the latter (P < 0.0001). Moreover, a further significant increase in IL-2 serum levels (P = 0.004) and a significant decrease (P < 0.0001) were shown in responders and non-responders, respectively at the end of the therapy. Using univariate and multivariate analyses, both overall survival and time to treatment failure were shown to be affected by the mean pathological levels of IL-2. Furthermore, the prognostic significance of the serum level of IL-2 was confirmed by the stepwise regression analysis. In conclusion, determination of pre-treatment IL-2 serum levels was shown to be of independent prognostic utility in patients with advanced NSCLC; therefore, its possible use for prediction of outcome is proposed.