Cervical cancer is an important public health problem among adult women in developing countries in South and Central America, sub-Saharan Africa, and south and south-east Asia. Frequently repeated cytology screening programmes--either organized or opportunistic--have led to a large decline in cervical cancer incidence and mortality in developed countries. In contrast, cervical cancer remains largely uncontrolled in high-risk developing countries because of ineffective or no screening. This article briefly reviews the experience from existing screening and research initiatives in developing countries. Substantial costs are involved in providing the infrastructure, manpower, consumables, follow-up and surveillance for both organized and opportunistic screening programmes for cervical cancer. Owing to their limited health care resources, developing countries cannot afford the models of frequently repeated screening of women over a wide age range that are used in developed countries. Many low-income developing countries, including most in sub-Saharan Africa, have neither the resources nor the capacity for their health services to organize and sustain any kind of screening programme. Middle-income developing countries, which currently provide inefficient screening, should reorganize their programmes in the light of experiences from other countries and lessons from their past failures. Middle-income countries intending to organize a new screening programme should start first in a limited geographical area, before considering any expansion. It is also more realistic and effective to target the screening on high-risk women once or twice in their lifetime using a highly sensitive test, with an emphasis on high coverage (>80%) of the targeted population. Efforts to organize an effective screening programme in these developing countries will have to find adequate financial resources, develop the infrastructure, train the needed manpower, and elaborate surveillance mechanisms for screening, investigating, treating, and following up the targeted women. The findings from the large body of research on various screening approaches carried out in developing countries and from the available managerial guidelines should be taken into account when reorganizing existing programmes and when considering new screening initiatives.