Squamous cell carcinoma antigen (SCC-Ag) is a glycoprotein secreted by non-small cell lung tumours (NSCLC). This study investigated the diagnostic and prognostic significance of SCC-Ag in NSCLC. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis was used to test the diagnostic performance of the SCC-Ag and determine the optimal threshold value in a group of 100 NSCLC patients undergoing surgery and 50 age matched healthy controls. This threshold was then prospectively validated in a group of 53 patients and 49 healthy controls. The prognostic significance of the preoperative SCC-Ag level and its postoperative decrease were tested using univariate and multivariate proportional hazard models. The area under the ROC curve was 0.71+/-0.04, and the best cutoff value was 1.4 ng/ml. This discriminated patients in the validation group, with a sensitivity of 0.55 and a specificity of 1.0. The hazard ratio was 0.144 (95% CI 0.074-0.281) for the postoperative decrease in the SCC Ag, and 5.823 (3.299-10.278) for the preoperative SCC Ag level. Multivariate analysis revealed that only disease stage and patients' age are strong prognostic factors for survival. In conclusion, the SCC-Ag serum level has moderate diagnostic role in NSCLC. Both the preoperative SCC-Ag level and its postoperative decrease have prognostic significance, yet inferior to the disease stage and the patient's age.