Somatically acquired mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene in lung cancer are associated with significant clinical responses to gefitinib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that targets EGFR. We screened the EGFR in 469 resected tumours of patients with lung cancer, which included 322 adenocarcinomas, 102 squamous cell carcinomas, 27 large cell carcinomas, 13 small cell carcinomas, and five other cell types. PCR with a specific condition was performed to identify any deletion in exon 19, while mutant-allele-specific amplification was performed to identify a mutation in codon 858 of exon 21. EGFR mutations were found in 136 cases (42.2%) with adenocarcinoma, in one case with large cell carcinoma, and in one case with pleomorphic carcinoma. An in-frame deletion in exon 19 was found in 62 cases while an L858R mutation was found in 77 cases. In the 322 cases with adenocarcinoma, these mutations were more frequently found in women than in men (P=0.0004), in well differentiated tumours than in poorly differentiated tumours (P=0.0014), and in patients who were never smokers than in patients who were current/former smokers (P<0.0001). The mutation was more frequently observed in patients who smoked <or=20 pack-year, and in patients who quit at least 20 years before the date of diagnosis for lung cancer. The K-ras mutations were more frequently found in smokers than in never smokers, and in high-dose smokers than in low-dose smokers. In conclusion, the mutations within the tyrosine kinase domain of EGFR were found to specifically occur in lung adenocarcinoma patients with a low exposure of tobacco smoking.