We analyzed a set of 103 non-small cell lung carcinomas (NSCLCs) for caspase-3, -6 and -8 expression and apoptosis. Additionally, the expression of bcl-2, bax and p53 were studied. Caspase-3 positivity appeared as diffuse, cytoplasmic staining and was restricted to the tumor area. In contrast, the immunoreactivity for caspase-6 was intense, granular and mostly located in single cells or groups of tumor cells showing apoptotic morphology. The caspase-8 expression pattern was a combination of the two other caspases studied, featuring both diffuse and single-cell patterns restricted to the tumor area. No significant differences were seen in caspase -3, -6 and -8 expression between tumors of different histological types or grades. The number of apoptotic cells and bodies was significantly higher in NSCLCs, in which caspase-8 immunostaining was mainly seen in single cells (p = 0.017), whereas caspase -3 and -6 expression had no association with apoptosis. It is apparent that, in lung tissue, up-regulation of caspase expression is a phenomenon associated solely with neoplasia and reflects the readiness of the tumor cells to undergo apoptosis. Interestingly, caspases -3, -6 and -8 each have an individual staining pattern in NSCLC, perhaps reflecting their different position in the caspase hierarchy.