Hepatitis C virus (HCV) seems to be the aetiologic agent of mixed cryoglobulinaemia, and as this 'benign' lymphoproliferative disorder can frequently develop into more aggressive haematological disorders, this study was undertaken to determine the prevalence of HCV infection in non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. 199 unselected subjects treated by three haematological centres in Northeast Italy were investigated for the presence of HCV infection. As controls, the prevalence of HCV infection was determined in a group of patients affected by other haematological malignancies (153 subjects) and in the general population of the same geographical area in the cohort study called the Dyonisos project (6917 subjects). The presence of anti-HCV antibodies was determined by a commercial kit and, in positive cases, by PCR amplification of the 5' untranslated region of the virus. The HCV genotype was also obtained by PCR amplification of the Core region with type-specific primers. The presence of serum cryoglobulins was determined in each case of NHL. HCV infection was significantly (P < 0.00000001) higher in patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (28.0%) when compared with that of the general population (2.9%), and with the group of patients affected by other malignancies (3.1%). The prevalence is particularly high in low-grade (38.4%), as compared with intermediate (11.4%), or high-grade (15.2%) lymphomas. The presence of the virus is significantly (P < 0.000001) associated with the presence of detectable levels of cryoglobulins. On the basis of these findings. HCV seems to play an important role in the development of low-grade non-Hodgkin's lymphomas.