Either diagnostic delay or tumour biology are possible factors governing the degree of spread at diagnosis of cervical cancer. To try to identify the most important parameter contributing to advanced stage, the duration of symptoms were recorded from patients scheduled for radiotherapy (n = 141) or radical hysterectomy (n = 36). In 146 cases tumour proliferation rates were evaluated following in vivo labelling with the DNA precursor BrdUrd. For symptomatic patients there was no association between duration of symptoms and stage at presentation. There was a significant trend for patients with increasing tumour stage to have more rapidly proliferating tumours with higher mean labelling index (LI) measurements (P = 0.001) and a shorter mean potential doubling time (Tpot) (P = 0.023). Socio economic deprivation may be associated with shorter Tpot values. The conclusion from this data is that stage at diagnosis is more dependent on the biological behaviour of the tumour, as expressed by proliferation rates, than delay in presentation.