AIM: To evaluate the patterns of bcl-2 expression in early stage cervical carcinoma; to compare bcl-2 expression with clinicopathological findings; and to assess its prognostic value. METHODS: Wertheim radical hysterectomy specimens from 76 patients (FIGO stages Ia-IIb) with untreated nonmetastatic invasive cervical carcinoma were studied. Expression of bcl-2 was detected immunohistochemically using a monoclonal antibody. A tumour was regarded as positive when more than 5% of the neoplastic cells exhibited bcl-2 immunoreactivity. RESULTS: Forty eight (63%) cervical carcinomas were scored as bcl-2 positive and 28 (37%) as bcl-2 negative. Most tumours showed heterogeneous cytoplasmic staining. Bc1-2 immunoreactivity did not correlate with tumour histology, tumour stage, presence of lymph node metastases, or involvement of the lymphovascular space. The five year survival rate for patients with bc1-2 negative tumours was 34% and was 71% for patients with bc1-2 positive tumours. On multiple regression analysis (Cox proportional hazards model), bc1-2 expression and vascular permeation were independent predictors of overall survival. CONCLUSIONS: Bcl-2 expression seems to be associated with less aggressive behaviour in early stage cervical carcinoma. The transition to bcl-2 independence may play an important role in tumour progression.