p53 mutations are among the most frequent genetic alterations reported in human lung cancer. Although the prognostic value of altered p53 expression is still debated, it is accepted widely that estimation of the proliferation rate has an important prognostic role. Moreover, an association between certain types of human lung cancers and tobacco use is well known. Drawing from this background, we investigated the immunohistochemical expression of mutant oncogenic p53 protein, and related it to the smoking history of 61 patients with non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) and to the expression pattern of proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), which is considered to be an important negative prognostic factor in several neoplasms. We found p53 overexpression in 22 (36.1%) specimens, including 16 squamous carcinomas (41%) and six (27.2%) adenocarcinomas. PCNA nuclear staining was detected in 98.4% of the specimens, and a significantly higher PCNA expression score was found in all of the p53-positive samples. When the patient survival time was compared, p53 accumulation had a statistically significant negative prognostic value (P < .001). This was supported by a Kaplan-Meier survival percentage plot of immunohistochemically p53-undetectable specimens and p53-detectable specimens. These latter patients had a greatly reduced survival time. A relationship was established between p53 immunohistochemical detection and the smoking history of the patients. None of the specimens from the nonsmoking patients expressed immunohistochemically detectable p53 protein. Altered p53 expression was detected in 40.7% of smoking patients. Our findings support the hypothesis of involvement of p53 mutations in tobacco-induced carcinogensis and indicate that altered p53 expression plays an important prognostic role in NSCLC in smokers.