A simple, sensitive method of DNA analysis of nucleotide substitutions, namely, single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis of polymerase chain reaction products (PCR-SSCP analysis), was used for detection of mutated ras genes in surgical specimens of human lung cancer. Of a total of 129 tumors analysed, 22 contained a mutated ras gene. Of the 66 adenocarcinomas analysed, 14 contained an activated c-Ki-ras2 gene (the mutations in codon 12 in 6, in codon 13 in 4, in codon 18 in one, and in codon 61 in 3), one contained a c-Ha-ras1 gene with a mutation in codon 61 and 3 contained N-ras genes with mutations (in codon 12 in one and in codon 61 in 2). Mutated rats genes were also found in 2 of 36 squamous cell carcinomas (c-Ha-ras1 genes with mutations in codon 61) and 2 of 14 large cell carcinomas (c-Ki-ras2 genes with mutations in codon 12). No mutation of the ras gene was detected in 8 small cell carcinomas and 5 adenosquamous cell carcinomas. These results indicate that activation of the ras gene was not frequent (17%) in human lung cancers, that among these lung cancers mutation of the ras gene was most frequent in adenocarcinomas (27%) and 73% of the point mutations were in the c-Ki-ras2 gene in codon 12, 13, 18 or 61.