Hypermethylation of CpG island is a common mechanism by which tumor suppressor genes are inactivated. The tumor suppressor genes p16(INK4a) and p15(INK4b) are important components of the cell cycles. We have studied the feasibility of detecting tumor-associated aberrant p16(INK4a) and p15(INK4b) methylation in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) using methylation-specific PCR. We found a high frequency of hypermethylation of the p16(INK4a) gene in 17 of 45 cases of NSCLC. In this study, there was no difference between the clinicopathological features or overall survival of patients with and without p16(INK4a) methylation. On the other hand, p15(INK4b) promoter hypermethylation is rare (5/45) in lung cancer and occurs in association with p16(INK4a) methylation. The overall survival of patients with p15(INK4b) methylation was markedly shortened in this series. We also analyzed cells in bronchial washings, and p16(INK4a) methylation was detected in 4 of 17 cases of NSCLC. Moreover, 1 of 10 plasma samples from patients with NSCLC was positive for p16(INK4a) methylation. Our results suggest a possible prognostic role of p15(INK4b) methylation in NSCLC, and that the detection of aberrant p16(INK4a) methylation in both bronchial washings and plasma may be useful for cancer diagnosis.