Boosting pre-existing, naturally occurring cytolytic CD8(+) T-cell (CTLs) responses directed against class-I MHC-restricted peptides of tumor antigens, represents a primary goal of cancer immunotherapy. The number of pre-existing antitumor CTLs and their impaired function has been incriminated as the most likely candidates for the reduced clinical efficacy of these trials. This study was scheduled to determine possible differences in the frequency and the function of naturally occurring CTL precursors (pCTLs) against multiple peptides derived from the cancer-testis antigens MAGE-A1 and MAGE-A3, and the overexpressed antigen hTERT, in newly diagnosed lung cancer patients as compared with aged-matched healthy individuals. The cumulative frequency of circulating peptide-specific pCTLs was found significantly higher in the cancer patients, varied widely and was not affected by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Furthermore, this frequency was greatly different between the various tumor-antigen peptides. Under the light of recent evidence provided from animal models, these results indicate that the peptide-specific pCTL frequency might represent an important determinant for the fate of cancer immunotherapy. In addition, our results show that tumor-specific pCTLs of cancer patients can present functional differences regarding their proliferative capacity, intensity of multimer staining and lytic capacity, when compared with those of healthy individuals. Hence, our findings could have an important role for the design of improved immunotherapeutic approaches for lung cancer.