Lung cancer development involves multiple genetic abnormalities leading to malignant transformation of the bronchial epithelial cells, followed by invasion and metastasis. One of the most common changes is mutation of the p53 tumor suppressor gene. The frequency of p53 alterations in lung cancer is highest in small cell and squamous cell carcinomas. A genetic "signature" of the type of p53 mutations has been associated with carcinogens in cigarette smoke. The majority of clinical studies suggest that lung cancers with p53 alterations carry a worse prognosis, and may be relatively more resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. An understanding of the role of p53 in human lung cancer may lead to more rational targeted approaches for treating this disease. P53 gene replacement is currently under clinical investigation but clearly more effective means of gene deliver to the tumor cells are required. Novel approaches to lung cancer therapy are needed to improve the observed poor patient survival despite current therapies.