Expression levels of hTERT mRNA were investigated by RT-PCR in tissue specimens of patients with (Group A) and without (Group B) clinically overt bronchial carcinoma, respectively. Bronchial carcinoma (n = 9) and distant normal (n = 9) specimens were analyzed in Group A. The chance of carcinoma seemed to increase with increasing hTERT mRNA levels (OR = 6.04, 95% CI = 1.02-37). Group B was comprised of 21 patients who underwent autofluorescence bronchoscopy. After analysis of 66 bronchial biopsies the chance of prevalent carcinoma in situ or carcinoma increased with increasing hTERT mRNA levels (OR = 6.19, 95% CI = 1.55-25). Variables like age, gender, smoking history, history of cancer within the airways or the degree of lymphocyte infiltrate in the specimens did not modify this relation. In 7 Group B patients in whom bronchial cancer was diagnosed during follow-up, biopsies taken before cancer diagnosis from both the area of the newly developed tumor and distantly from this area had been analyzed for hTERT expression. The median hTERT mRNA level in the biopsies from the area of future cancer was significantly higher than in biopsies taken from distant sites (p < 0.03). These data indicate that elevated hTERT mRNA is associated with an increased relative risk of prevalent and incident bronchial squamous cellcarcinoma (in situ).