The E6 oncoprotein derived from tumour-associated human papillomaviruses (HPVs) binds to and induces the degradation of the cellular tumour-suppressor protein p53. A common polymorphism that occurs in the p53 amino-acid sequence results in the presence of either a proline or an arginine at position 72. The effect of this polymorphism on the susceptibility of p53 to E6-mediated degradation has been investigated and the arginine form of p53 was found to be significantly more susceptible than the proline form. Moreover, allelic analysis of patients with HPV-associated tumours revealed a striking overrepresentation of homozygous arginine-72 p53 compared with the normal population, which indicated that individuals homozygous for arginine 72 are about seven times more susceptible to HPV-associated tumorigenesis than heterozygotes. The arginine-encoding allele therefore represents a significant risk factor in the development of HPV-associated cancers.