Because Pap-smear screening can detect pre-invasive cervical cancer, such screening can markedly reduce the occurrence of invasive cancer. However, its impact in different populations is uncertain. This study compares the changes in cervical cancer incidence at different ages after the introduction of screening in different populations, and addresses the impact of organized and opportunistic smear taking. We identified 17 cancer registries large enough and existing long enough to analyze screening effects. For each registry, we calculated the relative reduction in age-specific incidence rates and in incidence rates age-standardized to the world population after the introduction of cytologic screening. In 11 of the 17 populations, age-standardized incidence rates declined markedly from 27 percent in Norway and to 77 percent in Finland. Age-specific declines were confined to women aged 30 to 70 years old with a nadir around ages 40 to 55. In six other populations, age-standardized incidence rates declined less than 25 percent, an amount too small to provide unambiguous evidence of a screening effect. In several populations, cytologic screening had a more pronounced effect than is generally recognized. Because age-specific declines in cervical cancer incidence rates were strikingly similar in populations with widely different screening practices, organized screening may not be markedly superior to opportunistic screening. The reduction in reported cancer incidence because of screening is smaller in younger and older women.