Human papillomavirus 16 (HPV-16) infection and tobacco use are associated with human oropharyngeal cancers. We conducted a study of the role of HPV and tobacco use in base of the tongue (BOT) cancers. DNA from 34 such cancers was subjected to HPV-16 and HPV-18-specific polymerase chain reaction analysis. Demographic and clinicopathologic data were obtained from each patient's medical record. HPV-16 was detected in 68% of tumors. Tobacco use was the only factor found to be significantly associated with HPV status. Tumors from 100% of patients who had never used tobacco tested positive for HPV, compared with only 56% of those who had ever used tobacco (Fisher exact test, p = 0.024). All tumors were associated with either tobacco use or HPV infection. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that either tobacco use or HPV infection is necessary to the etiology of BOT tumors, and they suggest that tongue base carcinoma may be prevented by combining HPV vaccination with tobacco avoidance.