MicroRNAs (miRNAs) have been shown to be reliable early biomarkers in a variety of cancers including that of lung. We ascertained whether the biomarker potential of miRNAs could be validated in microscopically normal and easily accessible buccal epithelial brushings from cigarette smokers as a consequence of lung cancer linked 'field carcinogenesis'. We found that compared to neoplasia-free subjects, a panel of 68 miRNAs were upregulated and 3 downregulated in the normal appearing buccal mucosal cells collected from patients harboring lung cancer (n=76). The performance characteristics of selected miRNAs (with ≥ 1-fold change) were excellent with an average under the receiver operator characteristic curve (AUROC) of >0.80. Several miRNAs also displayed gender specificity between the groups. These results provide the first proof-of-concept scenario in which minimally intrusive cheek brushings could provide an initial screening tool in a large at-risk population.