Loss of genome-wide methylation is a common feature of cancer, and the degree of hypomethylation has been correlated with genomic instability. Global methylation of repetitive elements possibly arose as a defense mechanism against parasitic DNA elements, including retrotransposons and viral pathogens. Given the alterations of global methylation in both viral infection and cancer, we examined genome-wide methylation levels in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), a cancer causally associated with human papilloma virus (HPV). We assayed global hypomethylation levels in 26 HNSCC samples, compared with their matched normal adjacent tissue, using Pyrosequencing-based methylation assays for LINE repeats. In addition, we examined cell lines derived from a variety of solid tumors for LINE and SINE (Alu) repeats. The degree of LINE and Alu hypomethylation varied among different cancer cell lines. There was only moderate correlation between LINE and Alu methylation levels, with the range of variation in methylation levels being greater for the LINE elements. LINE hypomethylation was more pronounced in HPV-negative than in HPV-positive tumors. Moreover, genomic instability, as measured by genome-wide loss-of-heterozygosity (LOH) single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis, was greater in HNSCC samples with more pronounced LINE hypomethylation. Global hypomethylation was variable in HNSCC. Its correlation with both HPV status and degree of LOH as a surrogate for genomic instability may reflect alternative oncogenic pathways in HPV-positive versus HPV-negative tumors.