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There are different types of cervical cancer that affect different types of cells in the cervix. The most common types are squamous cell cervical cancer, adenocarcinoma and adenosquamous carcinoma.
Your healthcare team will find out what cervical cancer type you have by doing different tests. We have information about tests for cervical cancer on another page.
On this page:
Squamous cell cervical cancer is the most common type of cervical cancer. About 7 to 8 in 10 (70% to 80%) cervical cancers are this type.
Squamous cells are thin, flat, skin-like cells that line the surface of the cervix. The cancer often develops where the outer surface of the cervix joins with the cervical canal. This is called the transformation zone.
Squamous cell cancer of the cervix is usually caused by high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV). It can cause changes to the cervical cells that may develop into cervical cancer over time.
The treatment will depend on the grade and stage of the cancer. If the cancer is only present in a small area (stage 1A1), it can be removed with a type of small surgery called:
If the area of cancer is larger, your healthcare team will discuss your treatment options. This might include a trachelectomy or hysterectomy, as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy (chemoradiation).
Adenocarcinoma is less common than squamous cell cancer. About 2 out of 10 (20%) cervical cancers are adenocarcinomas.
Adenocarcinoma of the cervix starts in the gland cells inside the cervical canal. These cells produce mucus – a sticky fluid. It keeps the cervix, womb, ovaries and fallopian tubes healthy by protecting them from bacteria and infection. There are gland cells scattered along the lining of the narrow passage that runs from the cervix up into the womb. This passage is called the cervical canal.
The ‘adeno’ part of adenocarcinoma refers to glands, and ‘carcinoma’ refers to cancer in the cells that line tissues.
This type of cancer can be more difficult to find through cervical screening because it develops inside the cervical canal. It’s important to be aware of any symptoms, so you can get them checked out.
Adenocarcinoma is usually caused by high-risk HPV.
About 5 to 6 out of 100 (5 to 6%) cervical cancers are adenosquamous carcinomas.
Adenosquamous carcinoma includes cancer cells from squamous cell cervical cancer and adenocarcinoma – some squamous cells and some gland cells.
Adenosquamous carcinoma is usually caused by high-risk HPV.
Small cell cervical cancer is rare. About 1 in 100 (1%) cervical cancers are this type.
Small cell cervical cancer develops in cells which form part of the neuroendocrine system – which is made up of nerves and glands which release hormones.
It is also called small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma. ‘Neuro’ refers to the nerves, and ‘endocrine’ refers to hormones and the glands that release them. It’s called a ‘small cell’ cancer because the cancer cells look small under a microscope.
There are other types of neuroendocrine carcinomas, including large cell neuroendocrine carcinomas. These are rarer, but behave and are treated in a similar way to small cell cancers. Some people also have a mix of more than one type of neuroendocrine cancer.
Mucinous tumours are rare. They are treated in a similar way to squamous cell cervical cancer and adenocarcinoma.
Your team will check that it is not a tumour of the endometrium (the lining of the womb) which has extended down to the cervix.
Clear cell cervical cancer is rare. It is tested for in a similar way to other cervical cancers.
Clear cell cervical cancer is more common in women and people with a cervix whose mothers had a drug called diethylstilbestrol (DES) when pregnant.
Early stage cell clear cervical cancers are usually treated with a surgery called radical hysterectomy and lymph node dissection. Sometimes chemotherapy together with radiotherapy (chemoradiation) is given as well. This can help to reduce the risk of cervical cancer coming back.
If clear cell cervical cancer spreads outside of the cervix, chemotherapy may be given to control the cancer.
Other types of cancer can occur in the cervix, including sarcomas and lymphomas. These are less common than the cervical cancer types we have already talked about on this page.
Sarcomas and lymphomas are treated in a different way to other types of cervical cancer.
Sarcomas are uncommon cancers which affect the bones or soft tissues. They can affect any part of the body, including the cervix. You might hear sarcoma of the cervix being called cervical carcinosarcoma.
Treatments can include surgery followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. As they are rare tumours, they need to be discussed by specialist healthcare professionals.
A lymphoma is a cancer that starts in the cells of the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system.
The lymphatic system is made up of cells called lymphocytes which help fight infection. These cells are present in the lymph glands (or nodes) which exist throughout your body, including near your cervix. Lymphoma can develop when these cells start to grow in an uncontrolled way.
There are different types of lymphoma which need different types of treatment.
Dealing with a diagnosis of any type of cervical cancer can be difficult. If you have a rarer type, you may find it even harder to connect with others who understand or get the right support. Whatever your situation, remember that your healthcare team are there to answer any questions. We are also here for you.
If you are not sure where to turn, you can give our free Helpline a call on 0808 802 8000. Our trained volunteers can talk through your options or simply listen to what’s going on.
Sometimes connecting with others can be helpful. Our online Forum lets our community give and get support. You can read through the messages or post your own – whichever feels most comfortable.
Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it.
We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]