We used polymerase chain reaction DNA amplification methods for the detection and typing of genital human papillomaviruses in paraffin-embedded tissue sections of five patients with anorectal squamous cell carcinoma and 22 patients with colonic adenocarcinoma. The cases were further tested by in situ hybridization with biotin-labeled probes specific for human papillomavirus types 6/11, 16/18, and 31/33/35. By polymerase chain reaction, human papillomavirus DNA was demonstrated in all of the cases of anorectal squamous cell carcinoma and in none of the cases of colonic adenocarcinoma for which analyzable DNA was available. Tumor cell nuclei stained for human papillomavirus DNA by in situ hybridization in four of the five cases of squamous cell carcinoma and in none of the cases of colonic adenocarcinoma. We conclude that human papillomavirus types usually associated with malignant transformation are uniformly present in anorectal squamous cell carcinoma but are absent from adenocarcinoma of the colon.