The management of women with mild to moderately dyskaryotic cervical smears would benefit from a non-invasive test that predicts which women have high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. Detection of human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV16) DNA in cervical smears may be such a test. With the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), we estimated the amount of HPV16 DNA in cervical smears from 85 women referred for colposcopy because of abnormal cytology. An intermediate or high amount of HPV16 DNA predicted the presence of high-grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia in a subsequent biopsy in almost 90% of patients irrespective of the cytological grade of the referral smear. This technique may allow early identification of those women with low-grade cytological abnormalities who have high-grade underlying cervical disease.