The three ras genes code for proteins with a putative role in cellular signal transduction. They belong to a larger family of small guanosine-triphosphate (GTP)-binding proteins. The ras proteins acquire transforming activity when amino acids are substituted at one of a few specific sites, as a result of a point mutation in the gene. In about one third of adenocarcinomas of the lung, a K-ras mutation is present in codon 12 of the gene. Patients with early stages of K-ras mutation-positive tumors have a very unfavorable prognosis, even if apparently radical resection of the tumor has taken place. K-ras mutations are very rare among nonsmokers, and it is reasonable to assume that carcinogens in tobacco smoke directly cause the mutation. The types of ras mutations found in lung cancer are different from those in gastrointestinal malignancies. Colon cancer is mainly associated with mutations leading to substitution of the normal glycine at amino acid position 12 of K-ras by either valine or aspartic acid, and mutations in N-ras are not exceptional. In contrast, the predominant mutation in lung cancer leads to substitution of cysteine in codon 12. Several other members of the ras gene superfamily are also expressed in human lung cancer, but a possible relationship with lung tumorigenesis remains to be established.