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The relationship between negative cervical cytology reports and risk of adenocarcinoma of the cervix was evaluated in a case-control study of 113 cases and 452 controls. All cases and controls had received at least two negative cytology reports. There was no significant difference between the cases and controls in the number of negative cytology reports or in history of cervical abnormality; while a test for trend in the time since last negative cytology report was significant (P < 0.001), the estimated benefit was very modest. Although the estimates of relative protection were higher in women aged less than 35 years than in women aged 35-69 years, this difference was not statistically significant. These results suggest that cervical screening as practised in the 1970s and 1980s was much less effective in preventing adenocarcinoma than squamous carcinoma of the cervix.