Epithelial tumours develop through a sequence of pre-invasive lesions of increasing disarray driven by underlying somatic genetic changes. We have studied the occurrence of the two most common somatic genetic changes associated with lung cancer in a series of premalignant bronchial lesions representing different stages in lung tumorigenesis. We present evidence that allele loss on chromosome 3 precedes damage to the p53 gene. Damage to chromosome 3 itself appears to be sequential in that the pattern of allele loss seen in dysplasia is often much more discrete than in invasive tumours. This implies that preneoplastic lesions may be a useful source of material for deletion mapping studies aimed at localising the position of tumour suppressor genes. We illustrate this by the comparison of an interstitial deletion described in this study with a homozygous deletion we have described previously, which has resulted in a better definition of the localisation of a tumour suppressor gene believed to be involved in lung cancer development.