Tumour angiogenesis is an important factor for tumour growth and metastasis. Although some recent reports suggest that microvessel counts in non-small cell lung cancer are related to a poor disease outcome, the results were not conclusive and were not compared with other molecular prognostic markers. In the present study, the vascular grade was assessed in 107 (T1,2-N0,1) operable non-small cell lung carcinomas, using the JC70 monoclonal antibody to CD31. Three vascular grades were defined with appraisal by eye and by Chalkley counting: high (Chalkley score 7-12), medium (5-6), and low (2-4). There was a significant correlation between eye appraisal and Chalkley counting (P < 0.0001). Vascular grade was not related to histology, grade, proliferation index (Ki67), or EGFR or p53 expression. Tumours from younger patients had a higher grade of angiogenesis (P = 0.05). Apart from the vascular grade, none of the other factors examined was statistically related to lymph node metastasis (P < 0.0001). A univariate analysis of survival showed that vascular grade was the most significant prognostic factor (P = 0.0004), followed by N-stage (P = 0.001). In a multivariate analysis, N-stage and vascular grade were not found to be independent prognostic factors, since they were strongly related to each other. Excluding N-stage, vascular grade was the only independent prognostic factor (P = 0.007). Kaplan-Meier survival curves showed a statistically significant worse prognosis for patients with high vascular grade, but no difference was observed between low and medium vascular grade. These data suggest that angiogenesis in operable non-small cell lung cancer is a major prognostic factor for survival and, among the parameters tested, is the only factor related to cancer cell migration to lymph nodes. The integration of vascular grading in clinical trials on adjuvant chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy could substantially contribute in defining groups of operable patients who might benefit from cytotoxic treatment.