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Different types of cells in your body

Your body is made up of billions of cells that can only be seen under a microscope. These cells are grouped together to make up the tissues and organs of our bodies. These cells are basically the same, but they do vary in some ways. This is because the body organs do very different things. For example, nerves and muscles do very different things. So nerve and muscle cells are different.

The different types of cells can be grouped together or classified according to the job they do, or the type of body tissue they make up. For example there are:

Epithelial tissue

epithelial cells

'Epithelial' tissue is basically skin tissue that covers and lines the body. As well as covering the outside of the body, epithelial cells cover the inside too. They cover all the body organs, for example the organs of the digestive system and line the body cavities such as the inside of the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity.

Most cancers are cancers of the epithelial cells. Cancers of the epithelial cells are called 'carcinomas'. Carcinomas make up about 85% of all cancers.

There are different types of epithelial cells and these can develop into different types of cancer. For example, epithelial cells can be

Flat surface covering cells called squamous cells

 squamous cells

Glandular cells called adenomatous cells

adenomatous cells

Layers of stretchy cells called transitional cells

transitional cells

So you can have:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma of squamous cells             
  • Adenocarcinoma of glandular cells             
  • Transitional cell carcinoma of transitional cells
Squamous cells and adenomatous cells are found in all body organs. Cancers are named after the body organ they grow in as well as the type of cell. So a cancer of the squamous epithelial cells covering the lung would be 'squamous cell lung cancer'.

Connective tissue

Connective tissue is the name for the supporting tissue of the body, the bones, cartilage, tendons and fibrous tissue that supports the body organs. Connective tissue cancers are called 'sarcomas'. Sarcomas can develop from






muscle fibres 

Sarcomas are much less common than carcinomas. They make up about 6% of all cancers.

Blood and lymph tissue

There are many different types of blood and lymph tissue cells. These are really specialised connective tissue cells. The blood cells are made in the bone marrow in tissue called haematopoetic tissue. Blood and lymph tissue can develop into

Cancers of the blood cells - leukaemias

white blood cell

Cancers of the lymphatic system - lymphomas


Leukaemias and lymphomas make up about 5% of all types of cancer. But they are the commonest type of cancer affecting children.

Other body tissues and cancer

Other body tissue cells can become cancerous. But these types of cancer are very rare. The biggest group of these rare cancers are brain tumours. Brain tumours develop from the cells that support the nerve cells in the brain, called glial cells. These cancers also get their names from the cells they developed from. So cancers of the glial cells are called 'gliomas'.


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  Website updated on  April 2008
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