Interactions between CXCL12 and its receptors CXCR4 or CXCR7 are involved in tumor growth and metastasis in various types of human cancer. However, CXCL12 expression and its role in lung cancer are not fully elucidated. Here we examined the expression of CXCL12 in 54 lung cancer cell lines consisting of 23 small cell lung cancers (SCLCs) and 31 non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLCs). CXCL12 was overexpressed in lung cancer cell lines compared to non-malignant human bronchial epithelial cell lines (N = 6). CXCL12 expression was positively but weakly correlated with the expression of CXCR4 or CXCR7. We also examined CXCL12 expression in 89 NSCLC specimens and found that CXCL12 expression was significantly higher in tumor specimens from female patients, non-smokers and adenocarcinoma patients. Small interfering RNAs targeting CXCL12 inhibited cellular proliferation, colony formation and migration of CXCL12-overexpressing lung cancer cells; however, this inhibition did not occur in lung cancer cells that lacked CXCL12. Furthermore, the anti-CXCL12 neutralizing antibody mediated inhibitory effects in three lung cancer cell lines that overexpressed CXCL12, but not in two CXCL12 non-expressing lung cancer cell lines nor two non-malignant bronchial epithelial cell lines. The present study demonstrates that: CXCL12 is concomitantly overexpressed with CXCR4 or CXCR7 in lung cancers; CXCL12 is highly expressed in NSCLCs from females, non-smokers and adenocarcinoma patients; and disruption of CXCL12 inhibits the growth and migration of lung cancer cells. Our findings indicate that CXCL12 is required for tumor growth and provide a rationale for the anti-CXCL12 treatment strategy in lung cancer.