A collaborative study of screening programmes in eight countries was performed to estimate the risks of cervical cancer associated with different screening policies. Most of the data came from centrally organised screening programmes. Relative protection was higher in women who had had two or more negative results of screening tests than in those who had had only one negative smear, particularly in the first five years after the last test. There was little difference in the protection afforded by screening every year compared with every three years, but screening only once every five or 10 years offered appreciably less protection. The age of the women did not affect the sensitivity of the test or the sojourn time of the disease (the length of the detectable preclinical phase during which abnormal cytology could be picked up if a smear were taken); invasive cancer in women under 25 was rare. Centrally organised screening programmes were more effective than uncoordinated screening. Screening programmes should be aimed principally at women aged 35-60 but should start some years before the age of 35, and the intervals between screening should be three years or less.