We recently reported that regular infusions of adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP) inhibited loss of body weight and quality of life in patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In the present paper we investigated whether ATP affects tumor growth and survival in the same group of patients. Fifty-eight NSCLC patients (stage IIIB or IV) were randomly assigned to receive either 10 i.v. 30-h ATP infusions every 2-4 weeks over a 24-week period (n = 28) or no ATP (control patients, n = 30). ATP was given for a median of 6.5 infusions. Differences in time to progression and survival between patients in both groups were tested by means of the log-rank test and Cox regression analysis. Forty-nine patients were evaluable for tumor response. None of the evaluable patients showed a complete or partial response. Median time to progression was 3.9 months [95% confidence interval (CI) = 2.3-5.5] in the ATP group compared to 3.0 months (95% CI = 2.4-3.7) in the control group (p = 0.71). Median survival was 5.6 months (95% CI = 1.1-10.1) for the ATP group and 4.7 months (95% CI = 2.6-6.8) for the control group (p = 0.68). ATP treatment was associated with a significant increase in survival in the subgroup of weight-losing patients with stage IIIB NSCLC: in this subgroup, median survival was 9.3 months (95% CI = 2.1-16.5) for ATP-treated patients versus 3.5 months (95% CI = 2.3-4.7) for control patients (between-group difference: p = 0.009). No significant effect of ATP was observed for weight-losing patients with stage IV NSCLC or for weight-stable NSCLC patients. Although ATP as a single therapy does not lead to tumor regression or increased survival in patients with advanced lung cancer, it may prolong survival in weight-losing patients with stage IIIB lung cancer. The latter finding is intriguing, but requires confirmation in larger clinical trials.