The relationship between the human papillomavirus (HPV) and cancer of the upper aerodigestive trace is controversial. There is no doubt that at least some nasal, oral, pharyngeal and laryngeal carcinomas contain HPV DNA. However, the diversity in the reported incidence of HPV in these tumours represents a major problem. In the present study we have examined 30 laryngeal dysplastic lesions for HPV by the polymerase chain reaction, using three different pairs of consensus primers (GP5+/GP6+, MY09/MY11 and CPI/CPII). The single HPV-positive specimen was from a recurrent laryngeal papilloma. The HPV type present could not be determined, but it was not type 6, 11, 16, 18, 30, 31, 33 or 45. Restriction fragment length polymorphy analysis suggested a yet unknown HPV-type in this lesion. This investigation does not support the idea of HPV as an oncogenic cofactor in most laryngeal carcinomas as HPV was present in only 1/30 precancerous laryngeal lesions.