The role of the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2 in lung cancer remains controversial. In order to clarify its impact on survival in small and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), we performed a systematic review of the literature. Trials were selected for further analysis if they provided an independent assessment of Bcl-2 in lung cancer and reported analysis of survival data according to Bcl-2 status. To make it possible to aggregate survival results of the published studies, their methodology was assessed using a quality scale designed by the European Lung Cancer Working Party (including study design, laboratory methods and analysis). Of 28 studies, 11 identified Bcl-2 expression as a favourable prognostic factor and three linked it with poor prognosis; 14 trials were not significant. No differences in scoring measurement were detected between the studies, except that significantly higher scores were found in the trials with the largest sample sizes. Assessments of methodology and of laboratory technique were made independently of the conclusion of the trials. A total of 25 trials, comprising 3370 patients, provided sufficient information for the meta-analysis. The studies were categorised according to histology, disease stage and laboratory technique. The combined hazard ratio (HR) suggested that a positive Bcl-2 status has a favourable impact on survival: 0.70 (95% confidence interval 0.57-0.86) in seven studies on stages I-II NSCLC; 0.50 (0.39-0.65) in eight studies on surgically resected NSCLC; 0.91 (0.76-1.10) in six studies on any stage NSCLC; 0.57 (0.41-0.78) in five studies on squamous cell cancer; 0.75 (0.61-0.93) and 0.71 (0.61-0.83) respectively for five studies detecting Bcl-2 by immunohistochemistry with Ab clone 100 and for 13 studies assessing Bcl-2 with Ab clone 124; 0.92 (0.73-1.16) for four studies on small cell lung cancer; 1.26 (0.58-2.72) for three studies on neuroendocrine tumours. In NSCLC, Bcl-2 expression was associated with a better prognosis. The data on Bcl-2 expression in small cell lung cancer were insufficient to assess its prognostic value.