objective: to determine the prevalence of human papillomavirus (hpv) dna in penile cancers in rio de janeiro, brazil. materials and methods: we studied, prospectively, 80 consecutive cases of patients with penile cancers who underwent surgical treatment at three different hospitals in rio de janeiro between march 1995 and june 2000. of these patients, 72 were diagnosed with invasive squamous cell carcinoma and 8 patients with verrucous carcinoma. the following parameters were observed: presence or absence of hpv dna viral type, histological subtypes, clinical stage and overall survival. results: hpv dna was detected in 75% of patients with invasive carcinomas and in 50% of patients with verrucous carcinomas. high risk hpvs were detected in 15 of 54 (27.8%) patients with hpv positive invasive tumors and in 1 of 4 (25%) patients with hpv positive verrucous tumors. hpv 16 was the most frequent type observed. no correlation was observed between hpv status and histological subtype (p = 0.51) as well as hpv status and stage stratification (p = 0.88). hpv status was also not significantly associated with the presence of regional metastases (p = 0.89). the overall survival was related to the presence of lymph node metastases (p < 0.0001). conclusions: hpv infection may have contributed to malignant transformation in a large proportion of our penile cancer cases but only inguinal metastasis was a prognostic factor for survival in these patients with penile carcinoma.