The threonine-to-methionine substitution at amino acid position 790 (T790M) of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene has been reported in progressing lesions after gefitinib treatment in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that causes sensitive tumors to become resistant to gefitinib. Alternatively, the EGFR T790M mutation might be present in small fractions of tumor cells before drug treatment, and the tumor cells harboring the T790M mutation might be enriched during the proliferation after drug treatment. We developed a mutant-enriched PCR assay to detect small fractions of cells with T790M mutation and used this technique to detect mutations in 280 NSCLCs, including gefitinib-treated 95 cases. Although the direct sequencing detected only 1 T790M mutant case, the mutant-enriched PCR (confirmed to enrich one mutant out of 1 x 10(3) wild-type alleles) detected 9 additional cases among 280 cases. As linkage to clinicopathologic factors, the T790M mutation showed no bias for sex, smoking status, or histology but was significantly more frequent in advanced tumors (9 of 111 cases) than in early-stage tumors (1 of 169 cases; P = 0.0013). Among gefitinib-treated cases, gefitinib-sensitive mutations were found in 30 cases. The T790M mutation was present in 3 of 7 no-responders with the gefitinib-sensitive mutation and was not present in 19 responders (P = 0.014). Our results indicate that the T790M mutation is sometimes present in a minor population of tumor cells during the development of NSCLC and suggest that the detection of small fractions of T790M mutant alleles may be useful for predicting gefitinib resistance of NSCLCs with sensitive EGFR mutations.