The finite-difference time-domain (FDTD) method provides a flexible approach to studying the scattering that arises from arbitrarily inhomogeneous structures. We implemented a three-dimensional FDTD program code to model light scattering from biological cells. The perfectly matched layer (PML) boundary condition has been used to terminate the FDTD computational grid. We investigated differences in angle-dependent scattering properties of normal and dysplastic cervical cells. Specifically, the scattering patterns and phase functions have been computed for normal and dysplastic cervical cells at three different epithelial depths, namely, basal/parabasal, intermediate, and superficial. Construction of cervical cells within the FDTD computational grid is based on morphological and chromatin texture features obtained from quantitative histopathology. The results show that angle-dependent scattering characteristics are different not only for normal and dysplastic cells but also for cells at different epithelial depths. The calculated scattering cross-sections are significantly greater for dysplastic cells. The scattering cross-sections of cells at different depths indicate that scattering decreases in going from the superficial layer to the intermediate layer, but then increases in the basal/parabasal layer. This trend for epithelial cell scattering has also been observed in confocal images of ex vivo cervical tissue. © 2003 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.