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Small cell cervical cancer

Small  cell cervical cancer develops in the neuroendocrine system. This is the part of the body made up of nerves and glands that release hormones. About 1 in 100 (1%) cervical cancers are this type.

We know that having a rare type of cervical cancer can make it harder to get the right support or find someone else to connect with. We hope the information on this page helps, but remember our support services are here for you too.

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About small cell cervical cancer

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. This system is made up of nerves and glands which release hormones.

Small cell cervical cancer 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, under a microscope, the cancer cells appear small.

There are other types of neuroendocrine carcinomas, including large cell neuroendocrine carcinomas. These behave and are treated in a similar way to small cell cervical cancers. Fewer people have large cell cancers. Some people also have a mix of more than one type. 

Neuroendocrine cervical cancer cells are sometimes found alongside other more common types of cervical cancer cells, such as squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. 

Read about other cervical cancer types >

Symptoms of small cell cervical cancer

Symptoms of small cell cervical cancer are the same as other types of cervical cancer. The most common symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • vaginal bleeding that is unusual for you, including after the menopause, after sex, or between regular periods
  • changes to vaginal discharge
  • pain or discomfort during sex
  • unexplained pain in your lower back or between your hip bones (pelvis).

It is important to remember that these symptoms are common and do not mean you definitely have cervical cancer. But it’s a good idea to get them checked out.

Read more about cervical cancer symptoms >

Causes of small cell cervical cancer 

High-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) is thought to be the cause of most small cell cervical cancers. This is the same as other types of cervical cancer.

Read about risks and causes of cervical cancer >

Diagnosing small cell cervical cancer 

Sometimes small cell cervical cancers are found through cervical screening (smear tests). More often, small cell cervical cancer is diagnosed after:

  • someone has tests because of symptoms 
  • an examination of the cervix by a healthcare team suggests cervical cancer.

Small cell cancers can start in other parts of the body too, such as the lungs, and spread to other parts of the body, like the cervix. So if you have a small cell cancer, your healthcare team will probably want to do scans of other areas of your body to check if the cancer started in your cervix or somewhere else.

Read about tests for cervical cancer >

Your healthcare team might use a slightly different system to stage small cell cervical cancer, which is also used for small cell lung cancer. The stage will be called:

  • limited disease – where the cancer is small and still within the cervix
  • extensive disease – where the cancer has spread beyond the cervix.

Treating small cell cancer 

Small cell cervical cancers tend to grow more quickly than other types of cervical cancer. They are more likely to spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Because of this, treatment for small cell cervical cancer can be more intensive than for the other cervical cancer types. It usually means you have a combination of different treatments. The treatment that is best for you will depend on the size of the tumour and whether it has spread, as well as your general health.

Read about staging and grading cervical cancer >

If small cell cervical cancer has not spread outside of your cervix, treatment usually involves surgery called a radical hysterectomy and removal of the nearby lymph nodes. You are likely to have chemotherapy and sometimes radiotherapy too.

If surgery isn’t suitable for you, you are likely to only have chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Read more about treating cervical cancer >

If small cell cervical cancer has spread to the tissues around the cervix or other parts of the body, treatment usually involves chemotherapy. It might also involve radiotherapy or surgery.

You might have chemotherapy and radiotherapy together which is known as chemoradiation.

Read more about treating cervical cancer >

There isn’t an agreed guideline that every case of small cell cervical cancer – or cervical cancer generally – should be followed up in the same way. Instead, your healthcare team will look at your diagnosis and situation, and make a decision based on that.

Read about follow-up after cervical cancer treatment >

Getting support for small cell cervical cancer

Dealing with a diagnosis of any type of cervical cancer can be difficult. If you have a rarer type like small cell cervical cancer, you may find it even harder to connect with others who understand or get the right support.

Your healthcare team

Whatever your situation, remember that your healthcare team are there to support you. If you are still under the care of the hospital, you might find it helpful to speak with your clinical nurse specialist (CNS) or consultant about any questions you have.

Or you can speak to your GP or practice nurse. Remember to tell them if you are having any problems after diagnosis or treatment, as they can assess you and may be able to refer you to a specialist.

Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

We are also here to support you, whatever your diagnosis and whenever it was. Our 11:1 service offers a private way to get support over email, phone call or video call. We can talk through your personal situation, as well as helping you process your feelings and think about next steps. We also welcome partners and family members to use our 1:1 service, so if you are a loved one reading this or think yours would benefit from some extra support, get in touch.

Access our 1:1 service >

You can also 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.

Check our Helpline opening hours >

Sometimes connecting with others who have gone through a similar experience 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. It even has a section dedicated to small cell cervical cancer. If you would like to connect with others who have a small cell cervical cancer diagnosis, contact us at [email protected] We will do our best to put you in touch with someone.

Join our Forum >

If you have general questions about small cell cervical cancer, our panel of medical experts may be able to help. They can’t give you answers about your individual situation or health – it’s best to speak with your GP or healthcare team for that.

Use our Ask the Expert service >

European Neuroendocrine Tumour Society (ENETS)

You can join a registry of people who share information about themselves to improve knowledge about neuroendocrine cancers. This is called the European Neuroendocrine Tumour Society (ENETS).

Find out more about ENETS >

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.

References

  • British Gynaecological Cancer Society (2020). Cervical Cancer Guidelines: Recommendations for Practice. Web: https://www.bgcs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/FINAL-Cx-Ca-Version-for-submission.pdf. Accessed October 2020.
  • Tempfer, CB. et al (2018). Neuroendocrine carcinoma of the cervix: a systematic review of the literature. BMC Cancer. 18;530. Epub.
  • Gardner, GJ. et al (2011). Neuroendocrine tumors of the gynecologic tract: A Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO) clinical document. Gynecological Oncology. 122;1. pp.190-198.

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Read more about how we research and write our information >

Get 1:1 support

Get confidential support by phone, video call or email from our Support Service Advisors.

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Connect with others who have been diagnosed with small cell cervical cancer.

Date last updated: 
02 Nov 2020
Date due for review: 
01 Nov 2023
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