Cancerous tumours of the cervix

A cancerous tumour of the cervix can grow into nearby tissue and destroy it. The tumour can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Cancerous tumours are also called malignant tumours.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and adenocarcinoma are the most common tumours of the cervix. These types of cervical cancer usually develop from precancerous changes in the cervix because of infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Most precancerous changes in the cervix do not progress to cancer. When they do, it usually takes several years for cancer to develop.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Most cervical cancers are SCC. This type of cancer starts in squamous cells that cover the outer surface of the cervix, called the ectocervix. SCC develops most often in the squamo-columnar junction. This area is also called the transformation zone because columnar cells are constantly being changed into squamous cells as part of a normal process.

SCCs can be keratinizing or non-keratinizing:

  • Keratinizing means that the squamous cells grow into masses (nests) of cells that contain keratin (a tough, fibrous protein).
  • Non-keratinizing means that the squamous cells grow into nests of cells that do not contain keratin.

Rare types of SCC of the cervix include verrucous carcinoma, papillary SCC, papillary transitional cell carcinoma, warty carcinoma, basaloid SCC and lymphoepithelioma-like carcinoma.


Most of the other cervical cancers are adenocarcinomas. Adenocarcinoma starts in the glandular cells that line the inside of the cervix, called the endocervix.

  • Mucinous adenocarcinoma is the most common type of adenocarcinoma in the cervix.
  • Endometrioid adenocarcinoma is a type that looks similar to the cancer that develops in the lining of the uterus.
  • Clear cell carcinoma may happen in daughters of women who used diethylstilbestrol (DES) during their pregnancy.

Rare types of adenocarcinomas include papillary serous adenocarcinoma, villoglandular papillary adenocarcinoma, mesonephric adenocarcinoma and microcystic endocervical adenocarcinoma.

Adenosquamous carcinoma

Adenosquamous carcinoma contains a mixture of both glandular and squamous cells. It can affect women of any age.

Glassy cell carcinoma is an aggressive type of adenosquamous carcinoma.

Rare cervical tumours

Uncommon cervical tumours include:

  • small cell carcinoma
  • mucoepidermoid carcinoma
  • adenoid cystic carcinoma
  • malignant mixed mullerian tumours
  • adenoid basal carcinoma
  • primitive neuroectodermal tumour
  • desmoplastic small round cell tumour
  • carcinoid tumour
  • primary germ cell tumour
  • neuroendocrine carcinoma
  • primary extranodal lymphoma
  • sarcoma
  • melanoma

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society . Cervical Cancer . 2016 :
  • Klopp AH, Eifel PJ, Berek JS, Konstantinopoulos PA . Cancer of the cervix, vagina and vulva. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 72:1013-1047.
  • Kunos CA, Abdul-Karim FW, Dizon DS, Debernardo R . Cervix uteri. Chi DS, Dizon DS, Berchuck A, and Yashar C (eds.). Principles and Practice of Gynecologic Oncology. 7th ed. Philadelphia: 2017: 20: 467 - 510.
  • Levine DA, Dizon DS, Yashar CM, Barakat RR, Berchuch A, Markman M, Randall ME. Handbook for Principles and Practice of Gynecologic Oncology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer; 2015.

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