Skip to content

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer begins when abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix grow uncontrollably.

Cancer most commonly starts in the area of the cervix called the transformation zone, but it may spread to tissues around the cervix, such as the vagina, or to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs or liver.

What types are there?

There are two main types of cervical cancer, which are named after the cells they start in:

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) – the most common type, starts in the squamous cells of the cervix. It accounts for about 7 out of 10 cases (70%).

Adenocarcinoma – a less common type (about 25% of cases), starts in the glandular cells of the cervix. Adenocarcinoma is more difficult to diagnose because it occurs higher up in the cervix and the abnormal glandular cells are harder to find.

A small number of cervical cancers feature both squamous cells and glandular cells. These cancers are known as adenosquamous carcinomas or mixed carcinomas.

Other rarer types of cancer that can start in the cervix include small cell carcinoma and cervical sarcoma.

How common is cervical cancer?

About 850 women in Australia are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. Cervical cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women over 30, but it can occur at any age. About one in 195 women will develop cervical cancer before the age of 75. The incidence of cervical cancer in Australia has decreased significantly since a national screening program was introduced in the 1990s and a national HPV vaccination program was introduced in 2007.

Featured resource

Understanding Cervical Cancer

Download resource

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in September 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Penny Blomfield, Gynaecological Oncologist, Hobart Women’s Specialists, and Chair, Australian Society of Gynaecological Oncologists, TAS; Karina Campbell, Consumer; Carmen Heathcote, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Dr Pearly Khaw, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; A/Prof Jim Nicklin, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Associate Professor Gynaecologic Oncology, The University of Queensland; Prof Martin K Oehler, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Dr Megan Smith, Program Manager – Cervix, Cancer Council NSW; Pauline Tanner, Cancer Nurse Coordinator – Gynaecology, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, WA; Tamara Wraith, Senior Clinician, Physiotherapy Department, The Royal Women’s Hospital, VIC.