Several recent reports from academic centers have documented very low postoperative mortality after lung cancer surgery. However, generalizing these studies to community hospitals is potentially limited by reporting bias. From California hospital discharge abstracts, we identified 12,439 adults who underwent pulmonary resection for lung or bronchial tumors between January 1983 and December 1986. In-hospital mortality was 3.8 percent after wedge resection, 3.7 percent after segmental resection, 4.2 percent after lobectomy, and 11.6 percent after pneumonectomy. In multivariate regression models, the significant predictors of in-hospital death included age 60 years or more, male gender, extended resection, chronic lung or heart disease, diabetes and hospital volume. High-volume hospitals experienced better outcomes than low-volume hospitals, although unmeasured severity of illness may be a confounder. The overall mortality in this community-based sample exceeds that reported by selected centers and provides a better foundation for advising patients.