Serum levels of pepsinogen and gastrin are parameters that can be used as biomarkers for gastric mucosa. The aim of this study was to validate these serum biomarkers, that is pepsinogen A (PGA), pepsinogen C (PGC), PGA/PGC ratio, and gastrin, as screening tests for precancerous lesions: atrophic chronic gastritis (ACG) or Helicobacter pylori-related corpus-predominant or multifocal atrophy. The study population was comprised of a subsample of 284 patients from the 451 included in the Eurohepygast cohort, between 1995 and 1997. The concentrations of PGA, PGC, and gastrin were measured by radioimmunoassays. Histological diagnosis was the gold standard. Cut-off points were calculated using receiving operator characteristics (ROC) curves. Factors linked to variation of biomarkers were identified using multivariate linear regression. The mean of each biomarker in the sample was: PGA, 77.4 microg x l(-1); PGC, 13.2 microg x l(-1); PGA/PGC, 6.7; and gastrin, 62.4 ng x l(-1). For ACG patients, the areas under the PGA, PGC, PGA/PGC, and gastrin ROC curves were 0.55, 0.62, 0.73, and 0.58, respectively. The best cut-off point for PGA/PGC was 5.6, with sensitivity 65% and specificity 77.9%. For H. pylori-related corpus-predominant or multifocal atrophy, the areas under the respective ROC curves were 0.57, 0.67, 0.84, and 0.69. The best cut-off point for PGA/PGC was 4.7, with sensitivity 77.1% and specificity 87.4%. The results suggested that only the PGA/PGC ratio can be considered as a biomarker for precancerous lesions of the stomach, and may be useful as a screening test.