Pleural and pulmonary malignancies are usually associated with well-known carcinogen exposure. Recently, the presence of simian virus 40 (SV40)-like DNA sequences has been detected in brain and bone-related human cancers and in pleural mesothelioma. In order to determine whether SV40-like DNA sequences are also present in bronchopulmonary carcinoma and non-malignant lung samples, 125 frozen pleural and pulmonary samples (including 21 mesotheliomas, 63 bronchopulmonary carcinomas, 8 other tumours, and 33 non-malignant samples) and 38 additional samples distant from tumours were studied for the occurrence of SV40-like DNA sequences by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification followed by hybridization with specific probes. Sequences related to SV40 large T antigen (Tag) were present in 28.6 per cent of bronchopulmonary carcinomas, 47.6 per cent of mesotheliomas, and 16.0 per cent of cases with non-neoplastic pleural and pulmonary disease. No statistically significant difference in the occurrence of these DNA sequences was found between malignant mesothelioma and bronchopulmonary carcinoma, but a significantly higher number of mesothelioma cases exhibited SV40-like DNA sequences in comparison with cases of non-malignant pleural or pulmonary disease (P < 0.04). Among cases positive for SV40-like DNA sequences, a history of asbestos exposure was found in 3 out of 12 bronchopulmonary carcinomas and 8 out of 10 mesotheliomas. Immunohistochemistry using monoclonal antibodies directed against Tag did not demonstrate nuclear staining. The DNA sequences were not related to BK virus sequences, but three samples were positive with probes hybridizing with JC virus DNA sequences. In conclusion, this study demonstrates the presence of SV40-like DNA sequences in pulmonary neoplasms and in non-malignant lung tissues. It appears that the presence of SV40-like DNA is not unique to cancer.