Persistent infection with a high-risk human papillomavirus (hrHPV) is generally accepted as a necessary cause of cervical cancer. However, cervical cancer is a rare complication of an hrHPV infection since most such infections are transient, not even giving rise to cervical lesions. On average, it takes 12-15 years before a persistent hrHPV infection may ultimately, via consecutive premalignant stages (ie CIN lesions), lead to an overt cervical carcinoma. This argues that HPV-induced cervical carcinogenesis is multi-step in nature. In this review, the data from hrHPV-mediated in vitro transformation studies and those obtained from analysis of clinical specimens have been merged into a cervical cancer progression model. According to this model, a crucial decision maker in the early stages following infection involves individual susceptibility for certain HPV types depending on the genetic make-up of immune surveillance determinants. Once a CIN lesion has developed, altered transcriptional regulation of the viral E6/E7 oncogenes, resulting in genomic instability and distinguishing the process of cell transformation from a productive viral infection, probably provides the subsequent important step towards malignancy. The additional (epi)genetic alterations that subsequently accumulate in high-grade CIN lesions may result in overt malignancy via immortality and growth conditions that gradually become less sensitive to growth-modulating influences mediated by cytokines and cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesions. The potential implications of hrHPV testing and some other biomarkers deduced from this model for cervical screening and the clinical management of CIN disease are also discussed.