Background: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disorder associated to cigarette smoke and lung cancer (LC). Since epigenetic changes in oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes (TSGs) are clearly important in the development of LC. In this study, we hypothesize that tobacco smokers are susceptible for methylation in the promoter region of TSGs in airway epithelial cells when compared with non-smoker subjects. The purpose of this study was to investigate the usefulness of detection of genes promoter methylation in sputum specimens, as a complementary tool to identify LC biomarkers among smokers with early COPD.Methods: We determined the amount of DNA in induced sputum from patients with COPD (n = 23), LC (n = 26), as well as in healthy subjects (CTR) (n = 33), using a commercial kit for DNA purification, followed by absorbance measurement at 260 nm. The frequency of CDKN2A, CDH1 and MGMT promoter methylation in the same groups was determined by methylation-specific polymerase chain reaction (MSP). The Fisher's exact test was employed to compare frequency of results between different groups.Results: DNA concentration was 7.4 and 5.8 times higher in LC and COPD compared to the (CTR) (p < 0.0001), respectively. Methylation status of CDKN2A and MGMT was significantly higher in COPD and LC patients compared with CTR group (p < 0.0001). Frequency of CDH1 methylation only showed a statistically significant difference between LC patients and CTR group (p < 0.05).Conclusions: We provide evidence that aberrant methylation of TSGs in samples of induced sputum is a useful tool for early diagnostic of lung diseases (LC and COPD) in smoker subjects.Virtual slides: The abstract MUST finish with the following text: Virtual Slides The virtual slide(s) for this article can be found here: http://www.diagnosticpathology.diagnomx.eu/vs/1127865005664160.