Particular types of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection may preferentially progress from high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (HSIL) to squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix (SCC). We performed a meta-analysis of published data to compare HPV type distribution in HSIL and SCC. HPV16, 18 and 45 were each more prevalent in SCC than HSIL, whereas the reverse was true for other oncogenic types including HPV31, 33, 52 and 58. These data suggest that HSILs infected with HPV16, 18 and 45 preferentially progress to SCC. This may have implications for follow-up protocols of future HPV-based cervical cancer screening programmes and for HPV vaccine trials.