Objectives To explore the risk factors related to regional lymph node metastasis in cervical cancer and analyze the value of independent risk factors in predicting regional lymph node metastasis. Methods We retrospectively analyzed the clinical data of 699 patients who underwent surgery for stage IB1–IIA2 cervical cancer in Quanzhou First Hospital affiliated to Fujian Medical University from 2010 to 2016. The patients were divided into metastasis (n = 92) and non-metastasis (n = 607) groups based on the postoperative pathology of regional lymph node status. The relevant clinicopathological features of the metastasis and non-metastasis groups were compared through variance analysis and chi-square tests. Logistic regression was adopted to screen relevant independent risk factors of regional lymph node metastasis. Results In univariate analysis, International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) stages, serum squamous cell carcinoma antigen (SCC-Ag), histological type of squamous carcinoma and maximal tumor diameter were related factors for lymphatic metastasis in patients with cervical cancer. In multivariate analysis, SCC-Ag and histological type of squamous carcinoma were independent prognostic factors for lymphatic metastasis in patients with cervical cancer. Pre-treatment SCC-Ag serum levels, as a predictor of lymph node metastasis of cervical cancer, revealed a sensitivity of 62.07% (95% confidence interval (CI): 51.03–72.62%), specificity of 65.15% (59.07–70.89%), and area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve of 0.69 (95% CI: 0.61–0.76). Conclusions Cervical cancer patients whose pathological type is squamous carcinoma with high levels of SSC-Ag pre-operation are more likely to be diagnosed with regional lymph node metastasis. Standardized lymph node dissection should be implemented during operation.