Inhibitors of apoptosis, including bcl-2 and survivin (a novel gene encoding a unique apoptosis inhibitor), regulate cell proliferation by promoting cell survival. Although survivin has been detected in several human cancers, its prognostic significance and relationship to bcl-2 are not well characterized in lung cancer. Tissue sections from 102 non-small cell lung carcinomas (NSCLC) were immunostained using antibodies against survivin and bcl-2. Staining results were correlated with prognostic variables. Immunoreactivity for survivin and bcl-2 was observed in 53% and 21% of NSCLCs, respectively. Fifty-two percent of the 50 squamous cell carcinomas and 54% of the 52 adenocarcinomas expressed survivin. Survivin positivity correlated with tumor stage in squamous cell carcinoma. On univariate analysis, survivin expression correlated with decreased patient survival in NSCLC and in the subset of squamous cell carcinomas, but not in adenocarcinomas. On multivariate analysis, survivin was an independent predictor, along with distant metastasis and large tumor size. Eighteen percent of squamous cell carcinomas and 24% of adenocarcinomas expressed bcl-2. On univariate analysis, bcl-2 expression correlated with increased patient survival in NSCLC and in the subset of squamous cell carcinomas. An inverse correlation between the expression of survivin and bcl-2 was noted. Survivin immunoreactivity is an independent predictor of shortened survival in NSCLC, while bcl-2 protein expression correlated with prolonged patient survival. These findings indicate an inverse relationship between survivin and bcl-2 expression and suggest that these two inhibitors of apoptosis function through different pathways in the regulation of tumorigenesis in NSCLC.