Some clinical studies involving several histological types of cancer have suggested that high vascular density in the primary tumour promotes metastasis. Other studies have suggested that a high incidence of metastases is associated with low oxygen tension in the primary tumour. The purpose of the study reported here was to search for correlations between incidence of metastases and oxygen tension or vascular density in the same population of patients. Thirty-eight consecutive patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the uterine cervix were included in a prospective study. Pelvic, iliac and retroperitoneal lymph node metastases were detected by magnetic resonance imaging at the time of initial diagnosis. Oxygen tension was measured polarographically using the Eppendorf pO2 Histograph 6650. Vascular density was determined by histological examination of tumour biopsies. The primary tumours of the patients with metastases (n = 19) were more poorly oxygenated than those of the patients without metastases (n = 19). Thus, the fractions of the pO2 readings resulting in values below 5 mmHg and 10 mmHg were significantly higher for the former group of patients than for the latter (P = 0.03 and 0.02 respectively). In contrast, the vascular density of the primary tumour was not significantly different for the two groups of patients. The present study suggests that a high incidence of metastases in squamous cell carcinoma of the uterine cervix is associated with poor oxygenation of the primary tumour and not with a high vascular density.