The duration of survival in early-stage lung cancer (stages I and II) varies between reports in the literature. Several reasons account for this: patient population heterogeneity, inconsistent staging, anatomic variability, dissimilar tumor morphology, and unpredictable tumor biology. This report addresses some of the issues in early-stage non-small cell lung cancer that relate to variability between estimates of survival in end stage reporting. We review several large series since the introduction of the International Staging System in 1986 and other selected, contemporary reports that address end results in patients with pathologic stage I or stage II lung cancer. Overall survival for patients with pathologic stage I disease is 64.6% (range, 55% to 72%) and 41.2% for patients with stage II disease (range, 29% to 51%). Reducing morphologic differences by placing patients in groups based on the TNM subset and refinement in categorization by matching TNM subsets based on histology and other factors can improve considerably homogeneity and enhance prognostic predictability. The development of more accurate measures for predicting prognosis may serve to clarify the roles of primary and adjuvant treatment, particularly in those patients with early-stage disease associated with poor prognostic factors in whom the potential for long-term survival is reduced.