Time trends and geographical variation of Helicobacter pylori antibodies in Finland were investigated by enzyme immunoassay in 20- to 34-year-old randomly selected females from six localities during 1969-73 (n = 375), and 15- to 45-year-old females representing nine communities and four geographical areas in 1983 (n = 882) and 1995 (n = 842). In the six communities investigated at three different time points, the overall prevalence declined from 38 to 12%, with an emphasis on the latter 12 years. The regionally varying rate of decrease in helicobacter prevalence changed the pre-existing geographical variation, leaving northern Finland with the highest rate. A 10%-units higher local helicobacter prevalence seemed to predict a 23% (95% CI 3-44%) higher gastric cancer incidence 20 years later. The overall decline in helicobacter seropositivity is consistent with earlier reports from Finland and other developed countries, and supports the cohort theory as an explanation for the age-related increase in H. pylori seroprevalence.