It is now widely accepted that HPV types 16, 18, 31, and 33 are associated with the development of high grade intraepithelial neoplasia and malignant lesions in the cervix. On this basis, the identification of HPV types in cervical scrape samples has been advocated as a supplement to cytological screening tests. However, little is known of the distribution of the virus at different sites in the lower female genital tract or of how this distribution may change during the natural course of HPV infection. In this survey, HPV DNA dot hybridizations and, in some instances, Southern blot hybridizations with mixed HPV 6/11 and 16/18 probes were undertaken to detect HPV DNA in cervical scrapes and biopsies of the cervix, vagina, and vulva. A total of 92 women attending a Sydney hospital were screened: 59 of these patients had cervical disease, either invasive cervical carcinoma (CaCx) or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), grades I-III. A group of 33 women who lacked evidence of cervical abnormalities served as controls. HPV DNA, predominantly type 16/18, was detected in the cervical biopsies of 96% of the CaCx patients, 80% of the CIN III patients, and 65% of the CIN I-II patients. In contrast only 9% of the cervical biopsies from the control group contained detectable HPV 6, 11, 16, or 18 DNA. A high proportion of the women with cervical abnormalities had evidence of concurrent vaginal and/or vulval papillomavirus involvement. The significance of these findings for routine screening and subsequent management of patients with HPV-associated cervical disease is discussed.