In a previous study of lung cancer, we showed that bleomycin, a radiomimetic agent, induced breaks preferentially on chromosomes 4 and 5. The molecular cytogenetic study reported here, using chromosome painting and G banding, was designed to assess whether the chromatid breaks induced by bleomycin could survive as chromosome-type aberrations after treated lymphocyte populations were allowed to recover in a drug-free medium for one or two cell generations and whether the survival rates of lesions on chromosomes 4 and 5 differed in cases with lung cancer and controls. The findings from 16 cases and 14 controls showed that in samples allowed to recover for 48 h, most aberrations were of the chromosome type. The proportion of chromosome 5 abnormalities surviving as chromosome-type aberrations was significantly higher in the cells of lung cancer cases (13.4%) than in controls (4.6%; P < 0.0001). However, no significant differences in survival of chromosome 4 abnormalities were detected between cases and controls. The proportions of chromosome 5q13-q22 abnormalities were 5.3% in the cases and 0.6% in the controls (P < 0.0001). 5q13-q22 regions encompassed 38.4% of all abnormalities on chromosome 5 in the cases but only 14.5% in the controls. Therefore, the survival rate of chromosome 5 lesions (especially those at 5q13-q22) in lymphocytes might be used as a biomarker to identify populations at high risk for lung cancer.