Carcinoma of the lung is the most common cause of cancer death worldwide. The estimated 5-year survival ranges from 6-16%, depending on the cell type. The best opportunity for improving survival of lung cancer patients is through early detection, when curative surgical resection is possible. Although the subjects at increased risk for developing carcinoma of the lung (long-term smokers) can be identified, only 10-20% of this group will ultimately develop the disease. Screening tests of long-term smokers employed to date (radiography and sputum cytology) have not been successful in reducing lung cancer mortality. The application of molecular markers specific for lung cancer offers new possibilities for early detection. Hypermethylation of CpG islands in the promoter regions of genes is a common phenomenon in lung cancer, as demonstrated by the analysis of the methylation status of over 40 genes from lung cancer tumors, cell lines, patient sputum and/or serum. Determination of the methylation patterns of multiple genes to obtain complex DNA methylation signatures promises to provide a highly sensitive and specific tool for lung cancer diagnosis. When combined with the development of non-invasive methods to detect such signatures, this may provide a viable method to screen subjects at risk for lung cancer.