We examined whether elevated levels of retinoids, carotenoids, folate, and vitamin E protected against cervical dysplasia among non-Hispanic, black women. We enrolled 32 women with incident cervical dysplasia, including cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) I, CIN II, and CIN III/carcinoma in situ, and 113 control women with normal cervical cytology in case-control study. Micronutrient levels were estimated from a food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ) and measured from blood samples. Information on risk factors for cervical neoplasia was elicited by interview. Hybrid capture was used to determine infection with human papillomavirus. After adjustment for potential confounders, analysis of micronutrient levels estimated from the FFQ suggested that women in the upper tertile of lycopene and vitamin A intake were one-third (odds ratio = 0.32, 95% confidence interval = 0.8-1.3) and one-fourth (odds ratio = 0.24, 95% confidence interval = 0.05-1.2) as likely, respectively, to have dysplasia as women in the lower tertile. Borderline protective trends (p < or = 0.10) were apparent. Elevated levels of serum lycopene also suggested some protection against dysplasia. Results were not significant at alpha = 0.05 because of the small number of case women enrolled. Overall, correlations between estimates from the FFQ and serum levels were poor. This study indicates that, among black women, lycopene and perhaps vitamin A may play a protective role in the early stages of cervical carcinogenesis.