Human papilloma virus (HPV) DNA sequences (HPV types 16, 18, 33, 35 or uncharacterized) were detected by Southern blot hybridisation and polymerase chain reaction in 84% of 106 early-stage invasive carcinomas of the uterine cervix. Among HPV-positive patients, the risk of overall relapse did not differ with individual HPV types. Compared with HPV-positive patients, those with no detectable HPV DNA had a 2.6 times higher risk of overall relapse (p less than 0.05) and 4.5 times higher risk of distant metastases (p less than 0.01). The 24-month relapse-free survival rate in HPV-positive patients was significantly higher than that in HPV-negative patients (77% vs 40%), and the difference was similar (91% vs 56%) among those who were node-negative. These data indicate that HPV-negative cervical carcinomas may represent a biologically distinct subset of tumours that carry a poorer prognosis than do HPV-positive cancers.