The p16INK4A gene mapped on band p21 of chromosome 9 can be inactivated via multiple mechanisms including homozygous deletion, point mutation and promoter hypermethylation in various human tumors. A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) based analysis was performed to examine methylation of the p16INK4A gene promoter in 196 primary gynecologic malignancies including 98 cervical, 49 endometrial and 49 ovarian carcinomas. Methylation of p16INK4A was detected in 31% of cervical, 20% of endometrial, and 4% of ovarian carcinomas, respectively. The incidence of p16INK4A methylation in patients with cervical and endometrial carcinomas at advanced stages (stages III-IV) was statistically higher than those at early stages (stages I-II). There were also significant differences in the incidence of p16INK4A methylation in both cancers between the patients who had died of their disease or were alive with evidence of disease, and those without evidence of disease. The results indicate that methylation of the p16INK4A gene is present in a proportion of primary gynecologic malignancies and this alteration may be associated with poor outcome in cervical and endometrial carcinomas.