OBJECTIVE: To investigate the prevalence and type distribution of human papillomavirus (HPV) in women with normal cervical cytology and with cervical intraepithelial neoplasia I to III(CIN) or carcinoma of the cervix in Okinawa, Japan. METHODS: We investigated HPV DNA in 4,078 subjects with cytologically normal cervices, 279 subjects with CIN, and 383 subjects with cervical cancer in Okinawa Prefecture in Japan. The presence of HPV DNA was also compared among generations. HPV DNA was both detected and typed using polymerase chain reaction (PCR). RESULTS: The HPV positivity rate was 10.6% in the subjects who were normal on cervical cytodiagnosis. In each generation, the positivity rate was 20.4% in women aged 20-29 years and approximately 10% in the groups aged 30-89 years, with significant differences among generations. The HPV positivity rates in CIN and cervical cancer groups were 76.0% and 86.2%, respectively, with no significant difference between the groups. The positivity rate of HPV 16 decreased with age in both CIN and cervical cancer groups. CONCLUSION: Among non-cancer subjects, HPV infection rates were almost 20% in women aged 20-29 years and 10% in women aged 30-89 years. HPV16-positive CIN or carcinoma were more prevalent in the younger women, suggesting that HPV16-infected epithelial cells rapidly progress to cervical cancer.