Types and grades of cervical cancer

The type of cervical cancer you have tells you the type of cell that the cancer started in. The 2 main types of cervical cancer are squamous cell cancer and adenocarcinoma.

The grade of a cancer tells you how much the cancer cells look like normal cells. Cancer cells are divided into 3 grades.


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 covering the cervix's outer surface (the ectocervix).

Between 80 and 90 out of every 100 cervical cancers (80 to 90%) are squamous cell cancers.


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 (endocervix).

Adenocarcinoma is less common than squamous cell cancer, but has become more common in recent years. Between 10 and 20 out of every 100 cervical cancers (10 to 20%) 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 rarer type of cervical cancer. Between 3 to 10 out of every 100 cervical cancers (3 to 10%) are this type.

Adenosquamous cancers are treated similarly to squamous cell cancers of the cervix.

Rare types

Small cell cancer

Small cell cancer of the cervix is a very rare type of cervical cancer. Less than 5 in every 100 cervical cancers (5%) diagnosed are this type. 

Small cell cancers tend to grow quickly and are treated differently from the more common types of cervical cancer.

Other types

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.


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
  • Cervical Cancer Guidelines: Recommendations for Practice (May 2020)

    British Gynaecological Cancer Society (BGCS)

    Accessed September 2023

  • Cancer and its Management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (12th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2023

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular risk or cause you are interested in.

Last reviewed: 
20 Sep 2023
Next review due: 
20 Sep 2026

Related links