The role of rapidly growing mycobacteria (RGM) as pulmonary pathogens has been unclear. We identified 154 cases of lung disease caused by RGM using the microbiologic and radiographic criteria of the American Thoracic Society (ATS) and availability of the causative organism for study. More than one third of patients had positive lung biopsy cultures. Patients were predominantly white (83%), female (65%) nonsmokers (66%), and they had prolonged periods from onset of symptoms to diagnosis of their disease. Cough was an almost universal presenting symptom, whereas constitutional symptoms became more important with progression of disease. Upper lobe infiltrates were most common (88%), with 77% of patients developing bilateral disease. Cavitation was present in only 16% of the patients. Specific underlying diseases were infrequent, but they included previously treated mycobacterial disease (18%), coexistent Mycobacterium avium complex (8%), cystic fibrosis (6%), and gastroesophageal disorders with chronic vomiting (6%). The majority of isolates (82%) were M. abscessus (formerly M. chelonae subsp. abscessus). Effective treatment for M. fortuitum long disease was accomplished with drug therapy, whereas surgical resection of localized disease was the only effective long-term therapy for M. abscessus. Although the disease was generally slowly progressive, 21 of 154 (14%) patients died as a consequence of progressive RGM lung disease and respiratory failure. RGM should be recognized as a cause of chronic mycobacterial lung disease, and respiratory isolates should be assessed carefully.