Cell proliferation of 40 peripheral, node-negative non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) treated with surgery alone was investigated by immunohistochemical analysis with the monoclonal antibody (MoAb) PC10, which recognizes a proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) in formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded material. Results were correlated with DNA ploidy and S-phase fraction (SPF) analyzed by DNA flow cytometric study. Mitotic count (MC) was analyzed by light microscopic study and histopathologic features. PCNA immunoreactivity was seen in all samples and confined to the nuclei of cancer, but not to the surrounding, tumor-negative cells; its frequency ranged from 0-70% (median, 15%), and tumors expressed either a low (0-25%, n = 25) or intermediate (26-75%, n = 15) proliferative activity. There was no relationship between PCNA immunoreactivity and tumor stage or among size, histologic type, and mitotic count (MC). Tumors with intratumoral blood vessel invasion (BVI) showed a significantly higher (P less than 0.005) PCNA immunoreactivity than BVI-negative tumors. PCNA scores were significantly higher (P less than 0.005) in DNA aneuploid (n = 22) than in DNA diploid (n = 18) tumors and correlated significantly with the SPF of DNA aneuploid tumors (r = 0.825, P less than 0.0001), but not with diploid tumors (r = 0.002, P = 0.9). Intermediate proliferating tumors had a significantly higher (P less than 0.01) MC than their counterparts. In univariate analysis, significant predictors of survival were tumor classification (T1 versus T2), tumor size (less than or equal to 2.6 cm versus more than 2.6 cm), BVI (BVI-negative versus BVI-positive), MC (less than or equal to 8 versus more than 8), and PCNA immunoreactivity (low versus intermediate). DNA ploidy and SPF did not influence survival significantly. Only PCNA immunoreactivity retained its independent level of significance (P = 0.02) by multivariate analysis. It was concluded that PCNA immunostaining is a simple and clinically useful method for estimating cell proliferation in formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue of resected peripheral, node-negative NSCLC.