Cervical cancer remains a leading cause of death for women in the developing world, and the treatment of preneoplastic cervical lesions is a considerable public-health burden in the developed world. There is unambiguous evidence that human papillomaviruses (HPVs) trigger the development of cervical and other anogenital malignancies, and that continued expression of HPV antigens in the tumours drives the neoplastic progression. The viral cause of cervical cancer is also its Achilles heel. Prophylactic vaccines to prevent HPV infection and therapeutic vaccines targeted at the HPV tumour antigens are in clinical trials. A firm grasp of the molecular pathogenesis of HPVs and the natural history of genital HPV infections, combined with greater understanding of how to trigger effective immune responses, offers hope for the elimination of HPV-associated diseases.