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Types and grades

Read about the different types and grades of cervical cancer. 

Types

Knowing the type of cancer you have helps your doctor decide which treatment you need. There are 2 main types of cervical cancer:

  • squamous cell cancer
  • adenocarcinoma

They are named after the type of cell that becomes cancerous.

Squamous cell cancer

Squamous cells are the flat, skin like cells that cover the outer surface of the cervix (the ectocervix).

Between 7 and 8 out of every 10 cervical cancers (70 to 80%) are squamous cell cancer.

Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma is a cancer that starts in the gland cells that produce mucus. These gland cells are called adenomatous cells.

The cervix has adenomatous cells scattered along the inside of the passageway that runs from the cervix to the womb (the endocervical canal). It is less common than squamous cell cancer, but has become more common in recent years.

More than 1 in every 10  cervical cancers (more than 10%) are adenocarcinoma. It is treated in the same way as squamous cell cancer of the cervix.

Small cell cancer

Small cell cancer of the cervix is a very rare type of cervical cancer. Fewer than 3 in every 100 women (3%) diagnosed with cervical cancer have this type. 

It is called small cell because under a microscope the cells appear small with a large nucleus. Small cell cancers tend to grow quickly and need to be treated early.

Other rarer types of cancer

Very rarely, other types of cancer can occur in the cervix. An example is lymphoma, which is a cancer of the tubes and glands that filter body fluids and fight infections (the lymphatic system).

If you have this rare cancer, then this section is not the right one for you. We have another section about lymphoma and its treatment.

Grades

The grade of a cancer tells you how much the cancer cells look like normal cells.

The grade gives your doctor an idea of how the cancer might behave and what treatment you need.

The grades of cancer cells are from 1 to 3:

  • grade 1 (low grade) look most like normal cells
  • grade 2 look a bit like normal cells
  • grade 3 (high grade) look very abnormal and not like normal cells
Last reviewed: 
29 May 2014
  • Cervical cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up

    Colombo and others. Annals of Oncology, October 2012. Vol. 23, supplement 7

  • Cancer and its Management, 6th Edition
    Tobias and Hochhauser. Wiley-Blackwell, May 2013

  • Principles and practice of oncology (9th edition)
    De Vita and others. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

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