The Second Molecular Biomarkers Workshop was held at the Roy Castle International Centre for Lung Cancer Research in Liverpool, in June 2001 and it brought together experts in the clinical, epidemiological and molecular-pathology of lung cancer from Europe and the USA, to address issues surrounding the development of a European strategy for early lung cancer detection. The 2001 Workshop Breakout Groups concentrated on the current challenges in the early detection of lung cancer which need to be addressed in the light of the recent surge in interest in many countries for mounting new clinical trials to evaluate the utility of Spiral CT in early lung cancer detection. If population-based trials of CT screening are mounted it will also be a favorable clinical environment in which to evaluate efficiently recent advances in molecular screening and genotyping. The Workshop focused specifically on: a) clinical and molecular biomarkers, b) sputum as an early detection and diagnostic tool, c) validation of molecular markers prior to their use in early detection trials and d) ethical issues that have to be considered in early lung cancer detection trials. A distillation of the Workshop discussions is given in this article.