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Genotyping may improve risk stratification of high-risk (HR) human papillomavirus (HPV)-positive women in cervical screening programs; however, prospective data comparing the natural history and carcinogenic potential of individual HR types remain limited. A meta-analysis of cross-sectional HR HPV-type distribution in 115,789 HPV-positive women was performed, including 33,154 normal cytology, 6,810 atypical squamous cells of undetermined significance (ASCUS), 13,480 low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (LSIL) and 6,616 high-grade SIL (HSIL) diagnosed cytologically, 8,106 cervical intraepithelial neoplasia grade 1 (CIN1), 4,068 CIN2 and 10,753 CIN3 diagnosed histologically and 36,374 invasive cervical cancers (ICCs) from 423 PCR-based studies worldwide. No strong differences in HPV-type distribution were apparent between normal cytology, ASCUS, LSIL or CIN1. However, HPV16 positivity increased steeply from normal/ASCUS/LSIL/CIN1 (20–28%), through CIN2/HSIL (40/47%) to CIN3/ICC (58/63%). HPV16, 18 and 45 accounted for a greater or equal proportion of HPV infections in ICC compared to normal cytology (ICC:normal ratios = 3.07, 1.87 and 1.10, respectively) and to CIN3 (ICC:CIN3 ratios = 1.08, 2.11 and 1.47, respectively). Other HR types accounted for important proportions of HPV-positive CIN2 and CIN3, but their contribution dropped in ICC, with ICC:normal ratios ranging from 0.94 for HPV33 down to 0.16 for HPV51. ICC:normal ratios were particularly high for HPV45 in Africa (1.85) and South/Central America (1.79) and for HPV58 in Eastern Asia (1.36). ASCUS and LSIL appear proxies of HPV infection rather than cancer precursors, and even CIN3 is not entirely representative of the types causing ICC. HPV16 in particular, but also HPV18 and 45, warrant special attention in HPV-based screening programs.