Since the introduction of computed tomography (CT), detection of small lung cancer, especially small peripheral adenocarcinoma, is common. Recently, the morphological characteristics, including thin-section CT and pathologic findings, and prognosis of small peripheral lung adenocarcinomas have been studied extensively. The radiologic and microscopic findings correlate well with each other and are closely associated with tumour prognosis. Most importantly, some subtypes of small lung adenocarcinomas with specific CT or pathologic features are curable. Therefore, all defining characteristics (CT, pathologic and prognostic) of this kind of tumour should be integrated to improve our understanding, provide guidelines for management and accurately assess its prognosis.