To evaluate the clinical significance of HPV genotyping for the prediction of progressive cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) in women with cytomorphologically abnormal smears, a prospective, blind, non-intervention study was performed. A total of 342 patients screened with cytomorphologically abnormal cervical smears were monitored every 3-4 months by cervical cytology, colposcopy and HPV testing using PCR. Women with progressive CIN disease were defined as patients developing lesions with a colposcopic impression of CIN III over more than 2 quadrants or resulting in a cytological smear equivalent to Pap 5. These patients were subsequently treated according to standard procedures. If any doubt arose about the true status of the patients (n = 75) these patients were censored and biopsied. The mean follow-up time was 16.5 months (range 3-36 months). Nineteen women showed progressive CIN disease and all appeared to be continuously HPV-positive from the start of the study. At biopsy, all these patients were histologically classified as CIN III. Seventeen of these women were positive for high-risk HPV types. Two cases were classified as still unidentified HPV. No progression was seen in the absence of HPV DNA or in the presence of low-risk HPV types. In life-table analysis the cumulative rate of progressive, histologically verified CIN disease was 17% after 36 months. Further analyses showed that other risk factors such as age, sexarche, number of sexual partners or smoking hardly influenced the effect of HPV on progression. The results show that the continuous presence of high-risk HPV types in women with cytomorphologically abnormal smears is a strong marker for progressive CIN disease.