44 small cell lung cancer cell lines established from 227 patients were studied for myc family DNA amplification (c-myc, N-myc, and L-myc). Two of 19 lines (11%) established from untreated patients' tumors had DNA amplification (one N-myc and one L-myc), compared with 11 of 25 (5 c-myc, 3 N-myc, and 3 L-myc) cell lines (44%) established from relapsed patients' tumors (P = 0.04). The 19 patients who had tumor cell lines established before chemotherapy treatment survived a median of 14 wk compared with 48 wk for the 123 extensive stage patients who did not have cell lines established (P less than 0.001). Relapsed patients whose cell lines had c-myc DNA amplification survived a shorter period (median of 33 wk) than patients whose cell lines did not have c-myc amplification (median of 53 wk; P = 0.04). We conclude that myc family DNA amplification is more common in tumor cell lines established from treated than untreated patients' tumors, and c-myc amplification in treated patients' tumor cell lines is associated with shortened survival.