Clearance of anogenital and oropharyngeal HPV infections is attributed primarily to a successful adaptive immune response. To date, little attention has been paid to the potential role of stochastic cell dynamics in the time it takes to clear an HPV infection. In this study, we combine mechanistic mathematical models at the cellular level with epidemiological data at the population level to disentangle the respective roles of immune capacity and cell dynamics in the clearing mechanism. Our results suggest that chance-in form of the stochastic dynamics of basal stem cells-plays a critical role in the elimination of HPV-infected cell clones. In particular, we find that in immunocompetent adolescents with cervical HPV infections, the immune response may contribute less than 20% to virus clearance-the rest is taken care of by the stochastic proliferation dynamics in the basal layer. In HIV-negative individuals, the contribution of the immune response may be negligible.