Results from epidemiologic studies suggest that a carotenoid-rich diet may reduce risk for cervical cancer, possibly by inhibiting the progression of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, a preneoplastic lesion of the cervical tissue. Laboratory studies suggest that the mechanism may be linked to the metabolism of carotenoids to retinoic acid or retinoic acid-like compounds, which has been hypothesized to occur in the cervical tissue. The purpose of this study was to demonstrate the presence of provitamin A carotenoids in biopsied samples of this peripheral tissue in human subjects and to examine the relationship between baseline concentrations of these carotenoids in plasma and normal cervical tissue in subjects who were being evaluated for possible participation in a diet intervention trial. Subjects were 13 women aged 19-41 y. With the use of HPLC methodology, plasma concentrations of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin were determined with UV/visible light detection for plasma and electrochemical detection for cervical tissue. Relationships between plasma and cervical tissue were evaluated with Pearson correlation analysis. Adjusted for plasma cholesterol concentration, plasma alpha-carotene and beta-carotene were correlated with cervical tissue concentrations (r = 0.91, P < 0.001; r = 0.90, P < 0.001; respectively). Adjusted for plasma cholesterol concentration, plasma beta-cryptoxanthin tended to be correlated with cervical tissue concentrations (r = 0.62, P = 0.058). These findings suggest that plasma concentrations of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene are good predictors of cervical tissue concentrations of these compounds in human subjects and describe a first step toward demonstrating a biological link between provitamin A carotenoids and cervical cancer in vivo.