The ovarian steroid hormone estradiol and its metabolite estrone were examined in 45 normal women and 127 premenopausal women with precancerous cervical lesions. Interviews, colposcopy and cervical scrapings were performed. The mean +/- SD values for estradiol and estrone were 0.07 +/- 0.08 ng/ml and 0.06 +/- 0.02 ng/ml, respectively in normal subjects. Corresponding data in patients with cervical intraepithelial neoplasia alone or in association with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection were 0.074 +/- 0.03 ng/ml and 0.076 +/- 0.03 ng/ml or 0.080 +/- 0.03 ng/ml and 0.148 +/- 0.02 ng/ml, respectively, which revealed a significantly greater extent of estrogenic action in the latter population (p < 0.05). We considered that the presence of HPV infection probably increased 16 alpha-hydroxylation of estradiol, providing a possible link between the viral and hormonal elements, possibly having a bearing on the etiology of the disease.