This paper proposes an adaptive image representation learning method for cervix cancer tumor detection. The method learns the representation in two stages, a local feature description using a sparse dictionary learning and a global image representation using a bag-of-features (BOF) approach. The resultant representation is thus a BOF histogram, learned from a sparse local patch representation. The parameters of the sparse learning representation algorithm are tuned up by searching dictionaries with low coherence and high sparsity. The proposed method was evaluated in a dataset of 394 cervical histology images with tumoral and non-tumoral pathologies acquired at a 10X magnification and a resolution of 3800 × 3000 pixels in RGB color. A conventional BOF image representation, using a linearized raw-block patch descriptor, was selected as the baseline. The preliminary results show that our proposed method improves the baseline for all different BOF dictionary sizes (125, 250, 500, 1000 and 2000). Under a 10 cross-validation test and a 2000 BOF dictionary, the best performance was 0:77±0:04 in average accuracy, improving in 2:5% the baseline. These results suggest that a learning-from-data approach could be used in different stages of an image classifier construction pipeline, in particular for the image representation stage.