Attempts to relate presence and type of human papillomavirus in cervical carcinoma with prognosis have yielded conflicting results. To further investigate this relation, the association between survival of cervical cancer patients after diagnosis and the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV) RNA within the tumour was assessed retrospectively. Formalin-fixed biopsy specimens from 212 patients with cervical carcinoma who had been followed for up to 6 years were tested by in-situ hybridisation with 125I-labelled riboprobes. HPV-RNA-positive women were 11.9 years younger than HPV-negative women at diagnosis (p less than 0.001). Case-fatality rates from cervical cancer rose with absence of HPV RNA, age at diagnosis, or FIGO stage. Multivariate analysis confirmed that absence of detectable HPV RNA and advanced FIGO stage were independent risk factors. No differences in survival between HPV types 16, 18, 31, or 33 were seen. These observations suggest that cervical carcinoma patients fall into two groups--a younger, HPV-RNA-positive group, with a better prognosis, and an older, HPV-RNA-negative group with poorer prognosis. Treatment regimens for the two groups may need to differ.