It has been suggested that suppression of apoptosis may contribute to the development and progression of cancer. Anti-apoptotic survivin and livin genes are highly expressed in cancer cells and transformed cells, but show little or no expression in normal differentiated tissues. However, there are no available data concerning livin expression in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). We therefore measured livin mRNA and survivin mRNA expression in 38 NSCLC cancer samples and 15 paired non-cancerous lung tissue samples using a quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). While both mRNAs showed higher expression in cancers than non-cancerous tissues (P < 0.001), livin mRNA and survivin mRNA expression did not correlate with one another. When a cut-off value for positivity was set at the mean + S.D. for expression values in non-cancerous tissues, positivity rates for livin mRNA and survivin mRNA expression were 76.3% (29 of 38) and 36.8% (14 of 38) in lung cancers and 6.7% (1 of 15) and 0% (0 of 15), respectively, in paired non-cancerous lung tissue samples. Livin mRNA and survivin mRNA expression in tumors were up-regulated in 23 of 31 (74.2%) early-stage NSCLC patients and 11 of 31 (35.5%), respectively. Expression of both mRNAs in tumors varied independently of tumor histology. These results support the possibility that the livin gene may play a role in NSCLC development and increased expression of livin mRNA may serve as a new target for lung cancer treatment as well as survivin.