As part of a genetic epidemiologic study of lung cancer among nonsmokers, we investigated the role of genetic predisposition in familial aggregation. Cases were identified from the Metropolitan Detroit Cancer Surveillance System. Information on lung cancer occurrence, smoking habits (active or passive), and chronic respiratory diseases in first-degree relatives was obtained for 257 nonsmoking lung cancer probands (71 males, 186 females) diagnosed at ages 40-84 years. Among the 2,021 first-degree relatives, 24 (2.6%) males and 10 (1.1%) females were reported as having lung cancer. The occurrence of lung cancer among smoking and nonsmoking relatives was 4.5% and 1.1% in males and 2.8% and 0.4% in females, respectively. To evaluate the role of a putative Mendelian gene (one locus, two alleles) in the presence of other risk factors, we performed complex segregation analyses on the data using two different regressive model approaches [Segregation Analysis of a Discrete Trait Under a Class A Regressive Logistic Model, V4.0 (REGD) and Segregation Analysis of a Truncated Trait, V2.0, Model 1(REGTL)] as implemented in the Statistical Analysis for Genetic Epidemiology (SAGE) program. Using either approach, an environmental model best explained the observed lung cancer aggregation in families ascertained through nonsmoking probands. Based on our final model, only 0.04% of this population had a very high risk and 4.2% had a moderate risk of lung cancer. The rest of the population had virtually no risk of lung cancer during their lifetime unless they have multiple risk factors. Among the high-risk individuals without any risk factor under study, the estimated risks at ages 40, 60, and 80 years in males were 16.7%, 83.6%, and 95.4%, and in females were 14.0%, 72.2%, and 88.0%, respectively. Among at-moderate-risk smokers the estimated risks at the same age and gender groups were essentially the same as in the high-risk nonsmokers. Our results suggest that the pattern of lung cancer occurrence in families of nonsmoking lung cancer patients differs from that in families of smoking lung cancer patients. Despite the profound effect of smoking on the risk of lung cancer, other environmental and/or genetic risk factors need to be identified.