We compared the growth of human lung cancer cells in an ex vivo three-dimensional (3D) lung model and 2D culture to determine which better mimics lung cancer growth in patients. A549 cells were grown in an ex vivo 3D lung model and in 2D culture for 15 days. We measured the size and formation of tumor nodules and counted the cells after 15 days. We also stained the tissue/cells for Ki-67, and Caspase-3. We measured matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) levels in the conditioned media and in blood plasma from patients with adenocarcinoma of the lung. Organized tumor nodules with intact vascular space formed in the ex vivo 3D lung model but not in 2D culture. Proliferation and apoptosis were greater in the ex vivo 3D lung model compared to the 2D culture. After 15 days, there were significantly more cells in the 2D culture than the 3D model. MMP-1, MMP-9, and MMP-10 production were significantly greater in the ex vivo 3D lung model. There was no production of MMP-9 in the 2D culture. The patient samples contained MMP-1, MMP-2, MMP-9, and MMP-10. The human lung cancer cells grown on ex vivo 3D model form perfusable nodules that grow over time. It also produced MMPs that were not produced in 2D culture but seen in human lung cancer patients. The ex vivo 3D lung model may more closely mimic the biology of human lung cancer development than the 2D culture.