The overall incidence of and mortality from cervical cancer has declined in western countries and in most developing countries. In women under 40 years of age, however, mortality rates are levelling off or increasing in most countries. The earliest and most marked increases in young women occurred in England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. Mortality rates in young women from eastern European countries began to increase later than in the UK, but the increases are of concern because baseline mortality rates are high in these countries. The reasons for the overall decline in cervical cancer are largely unknown but appear to be linked to improvements in the general standard of living. The increases in young women may well be due to the increasing prevalence of HPV infection. Screening for cervical cancer has undoubtedly led to a decline in cervical cancer incidence and mortality in many countries, but its contribution to the trends is difficult to assess without further information.