Human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA detection in cervical specimens was correlated with cytologic and histologic diagnoses for 151 women who were referred to the Johns Hopkins Hospital colposcopy clinic for evaluation of an abnormal Pap smear. HPVs were identified as "high-risk" or "low-risk" by Hybrid Capture. The final disease status was categorized as high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (HSIL) by histology (n = 26), low-grade squamous intra-epithelial lesion (LSIL) by histology (n = 43), equivocal [histology negative, cytology atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS) or higher, n = 42], and negative (both histology and cytology negative, n = 40). Thirty-five percent of disease-negative women and 84% of the women with biopsy-proven or equivocal disease were HPV-positive. Ninety-two percent of the HPV-positive women harbored high-risk HPVs, either high-risk HPVs alone (77%) or high-risk HPVs along with low-risk HPVs (15%). High-risk HPVs predominated in disease-negative as well as disease-positive women. Collection of specimens with a cytobrush was more efficient for HPV DNA detection than collection by cervicovaginal lavage. Large amounts of HPV DNA correlated with presence of HSIL or LSIL. For detection of HSIL, considering only brush samples, the sensitivities of abnormal cytology (ASCUS or higher), of high-risk HPVs, and of the two combined were, respectively, 87, 93, and 100%; the corresponding specificities were 30, 30, and 20%. HPV DNA detection may be most beneficial in populations with low HPV prevalence.