Aims: Distinguishing between adenocarcinomas of endocervical and endometrial origin histologically can be difficult, particularly in small biopsies. Most endocervical adenocarcinomas contain human papillomavirus (HPV) deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) of 'high-risk' (HR) types, whereas this has not been consistently demonstrated in endometrial adenocarcinomas. The aim of this study was to determine whether HPV DNA testing could aid in this differential diagnosis.Methods: The frequency of HPV DNA in paraffin-embedded tissue samples from 50 endocervical and 50 endometrial adenocarcinomas was investigated using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification techniques involving (i) a screening HPV test followed by HPV DNA sequencing, and (ii) a test designed to detect HR genotypes 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 45 and 58. Control specimens included cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) III lesions, squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) of the cervix and lung, and colonic adenocarcinomas. Measures to minimise cross-contamination were implemented.Results: The screening test followed by HPV DNA sequencing had the highest sensitivity. By this test HR HPV DNA was detected in 11 of 11 (100%) cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN III) lesions, nine of 10 (90%) cervical SCCs, none of 10 (0%) colorectal adenocarcinomas and none of 10 (0%) SCCs of the lung. Thirty-nine (78%) endocervical adenocarcinomas contained HR HPV DNA, compared to one (2.0%) endometrial adenocarcinoma.Conclusions: The results suggest that HPV DNA testing could be a useful adjunct in distinguishing between endocervical and endometrial adenocarcinomas in curettings or small biopsy specimens.