The integration of human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA into the human genome has been generally accepted as a characteristic of malignant lesions. To gain a better understanding of this phenomenon, genomic DNA from 181 cervical biopsy specimens was isolated and analyzed for HPV type and physical state of the HPV genome. These specimens represented the full spectrum of cervical disease, from condyloma to invasive carcinoma. Discrimination between integrated and episomal HPV DNA was accomplished by the detection of HPV-human DNA junction fragments on Southern blots. In most cases in which ambiguous Southern blot results were obtained, the specimens were reanalyzed by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis. Of the 100 biopsy specimens of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia analyzed, only 3 showed integrated HPV DNA, in contrast to 56 (81%) of 69 cervical carcinomas (P less than 0.001) showing integrated HPV DNA. Of the 40 carcinomas containing HPV 16 DNA, 29 (72%) had integrated HPV DNA, of which 8 (20%) also had episomal HPV DNA. In 11 (27%) cancers, only episomal HPV 16 DNA was detected. All 23 HPV 18-containing carcinomas had integrated HPV DNA, and 1 also had episomal HPV 18 DNA. The difference between HPV types 16 and 18 with respect to frequency of integration was statistically significant (P less than 0.01). The results of this study indicate that detectable integration of HPV DNA, regardless of type, occurs infrequently in cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. The absence of HPV 16 DNA integration in some carcinomas implies that integration is not always required for malignant progression. In contrast, the consistent integration of HPV 18 DNA in all cervical cancers examined may be related to its greater transforming efficiency in vitro and its reported clinical association with more aggressive cervical cancers.