Human papillomaviruses have previously been identified by molecular hybridization in the majority of dysplastic and cancerous lesions of the cervix. Since human papillomavirus types 16 and 18 have been strongly associated with cervical cancer, the identification of patients infected with these specific human papillomavirus types may provide useful prognostic information. We have developed a painless, noninvasive cervicovaginal lavage technique to collect exfoliated cervicovaginal cells, which can be reliably analyzed for the presence of human papillomavirus deoxyribonucleic acid by Southern blot analysis with the use of deoxyribonucleic acid cloned from human papillomaviruses 6, 11, 16, and 18. In a prospective study of 60 women referred to a colposcopy clinic for evaluation of abnormal Papanicolaou smears, we have detected human papillomavirus deoxyribonucleic acid in 16 of 17 (94%) women with a Class III (dysplasia) or IV (carcinoma in situ) Papanicolaou smear, five of 11 (45%) women with a Class II (atypical) Papanicolaou smear, and 10 of 34 (29%) women with a normal Papanicolaou smear. Detection of human papillomavirus deoxyribonucleic acid in cervicovaginal cells was indicative of a dysplastic cervical lesion in 19 of 20 (95%) patients irrespective of Papanicolaou smear results. We conclude that human papillomavirus deoxyribonucleic acid analysis in cervicovaginal cells is a sensitive method to detect dysplastic lesions of the cervix and may be useful in identifying patients with specific types of human papillomavirus infection, who are at risk to develop cervical cancer.