To investigate the diagnostic accuracy and to characterize the findings in false-negative cases, the results of cervicovaginal cytology in 56 adenocarcinomas and 25 adenosquamous carcinomas (42 cervical, 36 endometrial, 2 metastatic and 1 arising synchronously from both cervix and endometrium) were reviewed, including review of the actual slides in 56 cases. Overall, 80% of the initial cytologic diagnoses resulted in diagnostic curettage (i.e., cytology was effectively positive); 84% of the postreview diagnosis were effectively positive. Nine cytology slides showed no malignant cells; eight of these negative smears showed repair, five were atrophic, two showed a high estrogen effect and one had enlarged atypical bare nuclei. These false-negative diagnoses were associated with an endometrial primary site (P less than .01), endometrioid histology (P less than .005), low-grade or intermediate-grade histology (P less than .005), small size of tumor (P less than .05) and absence of cervical involvement (P less than .005) in those cases in which a hysterectomy was performed. False-negative diagnoses were not associated with an absence of endocervical cells or with scanty cellularity. Of 39 cervical and 28 endometrial carcinomas with a positive cytologic diagnosis (initially or after review of the available slides), cytology correctly identified the primary site in 18% and 54% of the cases, respectively. Cytology incorrectly classified the anatomic site of four cervical and three endometrial carcinomas and considered one case arising in both the endometrium and cervix to be endometrial. Routine cervicovaginal cytology does have a role in screening for uterine glandular carcinoma; to maximize its diagnostic sensitivity, we suggest using a recommendation for curettage in the report of positive cases so that all of the varied cytologic diagnoses associated with glandular carcinomas will receive a uniform clinical response. In those cases with preserved cancer cells, a correlation can be made with the histologic type of the carcinoma, rather than with the anatomic site.