Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) play a central role in the aetiology of cervical neoplasia. However, only a small proportion of cervical intraepithelial lesions infected with high-risk HPVs will progress to invasive cervical carcinoma, which indicates the involvement of additional factors. An important emerging viral factor is naturally occurring intratypic sequence variation. Such variation has been used to study the geographical spread of HPVs, but there is increasing evidence that it may be important in determining the risk of development of neoplastic disease. The collected data indicate that different HPV variants have altered biochemical and biological properties and represent an additional risk factor in the development of squamous intraepithelial lesions and invasive carcinoma of the cervix. This may be relevant not only to the biology of HPV infection and its association with squamous neoplasia, but also to the use of HPV typing in clinical practice.