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Types and grades

There are different types of cervical cancer. The most common type is squamous cell cancer. Cancer cells are divided into 3 grades.

Types

Knowing the type of cancer you have helps your doctor decide on 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 70 and 80 out of every 100 cervical cancers (70 to 80%) are squamous cell cancers.

Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma is a cancer that starts in the gland cells that produce mucus. The cervix has glandular cells scattered along the inside of the passage that runs from the cervix to the womb (the endocervical canal).

Adenocarcinoma is less common than squamous cell cancer, but has become more common in recent years. More than 10 in every 100 cervical cancers (more than 10%) are adenocarcinomas.

Adenocarcinoma is treated in the same way as squamous cell cancer of the cervix.

Adenosquamous carcinoma

Adenosquamous cancers are tumours that have both squamous and glandular cancer cells. This is a rare type of cervical cancer. Around 5 to 6 out of 100 cervical cancers (5 to 6%) are this type.

Adenosquamous cancers are treated in a similar way to squamous cell cancers of the cervix.

Small cell cancer

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

Small cell cancers tend to grow quickly and are treated in a different way to the more common types of cervical cancer.

Other rarer types of cancer

Very rarely, other types of cancer can occur in the cervix. For example, lymphomas and sarcomas. They are treated in a different way to cervical cancer.

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: 
26 May 2017
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    N Colombo and others 
    Annals of Oncology, 2012. Volume 23, Supplement 7

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    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

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    VT DeVita , TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

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    D Raghavan, MS Ahluwalia, CD Blanke and others
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