Among patients with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), those with pathological stage I have the best expectation of survival; however, survival is reduced to less than 50% in the long term. At present, it is unclear when patients can be reasonably defined as cured, and if they experience a higher incidence of malignant/nonmalignant diseases and a lower expectation of survival than the general population. A total of 134 stage I NSCLC patients, who had undergone resection at the Thoracic Surgery Unit of the General Hospital of Verona (north-eastern Italy) from October 1987 to December 1993, were still disease-free at 5 years. These subjects were further followed up, and morbidity and mortality rates were compared with those recorded in the general population of the same geographical area. The standardised incidence ratios (SIRs) for all malignancies and for lung cancer were higher than expected (2.39, 95% CI=1.6-3.5, P<0.001; 10.1, 95% CI=6.2-15.6, P<0.0001, respectively). The standardised mortality ratio (SMR) was also significantly increased (1.73, 95% CI=1.1-2.6, P=0.013). The excess mortality could be entirely explained by an increase in mortality from lung cancer (5.7, 95% CI=2.8-10.1, P<0.0001). This study shows that patients, resected for pathological stage I NSCLC and tumour-free after 5 years, have a higher incidence of new lung cancer compared with the general population, which in turn determines an excess in all-cause mortality in the following years.