We used a computed tomography (CT) scanner program ("density mask") that highlights voxels within a given density range to quantitate emphysema by defining areas of abnormally low attenuation. We compared different density masks, mean lung attenuation, visual assessment of emphysema and the pathologic grade of emphysema in 28 patients undergoing lung resection for tumor. In each patient, a single representative CT image was compared with corresponding pathologic specimens of tissue. There was good correlation between the extent of emphysema as assessed by the density mask and the pathologic grade of emphysema. The optimal attenuation level to define areas of emphysema may vary in different scanners, but, once determined for a particular scanner, the density mask accurately assesses the extent of emphysema and eliminates interobserver and intraobserver variability. It has the added advantage of determining the exact percentage of lung parenchyma showing changes consistent with emphysema.