Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) are the major aetiological agents of cervical carcinoma. In this review, epidemiological and molecular data are combined to present a model for HPV-induced cervical carcinogenesis. The impact of current knowledge regarding diagnostic and therapeutic approaches is shown, i.e. the use of HPV tests in cervical cancer screening, in the management of atypical smears of uncertain diagnosis and in smears indicative of mild dysplasias, as well as in follow-up examinations during and after therapy. In addition, the value of the two most frequently used HPV detection systems, polymerase-chain reaction (PCR) and hybrid capture (HC) analysis, is discussed.