We performed a systematic review of 28 case–control, 17 cohort and seven twin studies of the relationship between family history and risk of lung cancer and a meta-analysis of risk estimates. Data from both case–control and cohort studies show a significantly increased lung cancer risk associated with having an affected relative. Risk appears to be greater in relatives of cases diagnosed at a young age and in those with multiple affected family members. Increased lung cancer risk was observed in association with an affected spouse and twin studies, while limited, favour shared environmental exposures. The limitations of the currently published epidemiological studies to infer genetic susceptibility are discussed.