Human papillomavirus (HPV) types 16 and 18 have been implicated as risk factors for cervical dysplasla and neoplasia. However, most studies have been observational, uncontrolled and conducted in populations at low risk for invasive cancer. We r sport a pilot case-control study of incident invasive cervical cancer in Panama, Costa Rica and Bogota, Colombia. Between July and September 1985 we enrolled 46 consecutive newly diagnosed invasive cervical cancer cases and 51 age-matted control women. Subjects were interviewed and samples collected for HPV DNA assays. HPV infection was defined by a filter in situ DNA hybidization technique under non-stringent and stringent conditions against HPV-6/11, 16 and 18 DNA probes. More cases (91 %) than controls (63%) had HPV DNA detected (non-stringent) and more cases than controls had HPV-16 or 18 DNA (67% vs. 43%, p = 0.02). Age at first intercourse was the most significant risk factor for HPV 16/18 Infection in all subjects. Smoking was significantly associated with cervical cancer (52% of cases vs. 27% controls) but was not associated with HPV infection.