The presence of airways obstruction identify in middle-aged male smokers at increased risk for lung cancer. This hypothesis was tested in a sample of patients with moderate to severe obstruction from the Intermittent Positive Pressure Breathing Trial and a sample of patients with no obstruction to moderate obstruction from the Johns Hopkins Lung Project, all of whom were followed for the development of lung cancer. On follow-up, the risk of developing lung cancer was found to be associated with entry values for age, smoking, and ventilatory status by linear, proportional hazard, and log-linear adjustment techniques. Among cigarette smokers, the presence of airways obstruction was more of an indicator for the subsequent development of lung cancer than was age or the level of smoking. The risk for lung cancer also increased in proportion to the degree of airways obstruction. These data suggest that smokers with ventilatory obstruction are at greater risk for lung cancer than are smokers without obstruction.