Serum levels of p53 protein were examined in 23 cases of lung cancer (many with potential asbestos exposure), 23 unexposed matched hospital control subjects, 58 unmatched general population control subjects, and 4 people with nonmalignant lung disease using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and Western immunoblotting. Average levels of serum p53 in the lung cancer patients (0.55 ng/mL) were higher than in the cases of nonmalignant lung disease (0.42 ng/mL) or in the matched (0.32 ng/mL) or unmatched (0.31 ng/mL) control subjects, but the differences were not statistically significant. However, three of the cases of lung cancer (13%) were found to have serum p53 levels much greater than those of the control subjects (>2 SD above the mean) and to have confirmatory positive Western blots for p53. The tumors from these subjects demonstrated increased levels of p53 in the tissue by immunohistochemistry and/or the presence of mutations in the p53 gene. These results suggest that p53 protein can be detected in serum in a portion of lung cancer cases with p53 alterations in the tumor tissue.