To determine the prognostic significance of human papilloma virus (HPV) DNA in histologically normal lymph nodes, we developed a nested polymerase chain-reaction (PCR) method on HPV16,18 and 33 DNAs for formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissues. We investigated 370 histologically normal lymph nodes from 15 patients treated for stage-IB/IIB (FIGO) invasive cervical cancer. HPV16 DNA was detected in 7 (47%) and HPV18 DNA in 3 (20%) of the cervical cancers. Examination of histologically normal lymph nodes from these 10 patients by nested PCR revealed HPV DNA in 5 (50%) of them; in all cases HPV type in lymph nodes and tumor was the same. Two of these 5 patients had a recurrence (pelvic cavity or lung) and died of cancer, although all 5 had had pelvic radiotherapy after radical hysterectomy and lymphadenectomy. These findings indicate that nested PCR is useful for evaluating early lymph-node involvement retrospectively in HPV-positive cases.