Human papillomavirus (HPV) types differ profoundly in cervical carcinogenicity. For the most carcinogenic type HPV16, variant lineages representing further evolutionary divergence also differ in cancer risk. Variants of the remaining 10 to 15 carcinogenic HPV types have not been well studied. In the first prospective, population-based study of HPV variants, AECC investigator Burk and collaborators explored whether, on average, the oldest evolutionary branches within each carcinogenic type predicted different risks of >2-year viral persistence and/or precancer and cancer [cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 3+ (CIN3+)]. They examined the natural history of HPV variants in the 7-year, 10,049-woman Guanacaste Cohort Study, using a nested case-control design. Infections were assigned to a variant lineage determined by phylogenetic parsimony methods based on URR/E6 sequences. Globally, for HPV types including HPV16, the P value was 0.01 for persistence and 0.07 for CIN3+. Excluding HPV16, the P values were 0.04 and 0.37, respectively. For HPV16, non-European viral variants were significantly more likely than European variants to cause persistence [odds ratio (OR), 2.6; P = 0.01] and CIN3+ (OR, 2.4; P = 0.004). HPV35 and HPV51 variant lineages also predicted CIN3+. HPV variants generally differ in risk of persistence. For some HPV types, especially HPV16, variant lineages differ in risk of CIN3+. The findings indicate that continued evolution of HPV types has led to even finer genetic discrimination linked to HPV natural history and cervical cancer risk. The authors concluded that larger viral genomic studies are warranted, especially to identify the genetic basis for HPV16's unique carcinogenicity.