Characterization of the clonality of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) by the rearranged segments of immunoglobulin heavy chain (Ig(H)) or T cell receptor (TCR) genes is not only useful in the confirmation of the diagnosis but also for the future assessment of how a secondary lymphoma, such as a recurrence or another primary lymphoma, occurs. As a practical approach to obtaining and registering this information in a surgical pathology laboratory, FR3 and FR1 regions of Ig(H) gene and TCRgamma gene were concurrently amplified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using each pair of consensus primers and the same PCR protocol. Examined samples consisted of 134 primary NHL (phenotypically, 108 B cell and 26 T cell NHL), 19 reactive lymphadenopathies, as well as five secondary lymphomas whose primary lesions were included in this study. Among the primary NHL, the combined PCR analysis disclosed the clonality in 103 of 134 NHL (77%), by FR3 PCR in 77 B cell and two T cell NHL, by FR1 PCR in 59 B cell and one T cell NHL, and by TCRgamma PCR in 11 B cell and 17 of 26 T cell NHL, but in none of the reactive lymphadenopathies. Among the secondary lymphomas, the same pattern of PCR analysis was obtained in two cases (the durations between first and second lymphomas; 6 and 10 months), which suggested recurrence. In contrast, different results were obtained in three cases (17-37 months), which indicated another primary or emergence of the subclones. The results of Southern blot analysis were concordant with the PCR results of the first and the secondary lymphomas. Although the combined PCR analysis cannot replace Southern blot hybridization because of its lower detection rate, it can select those cases suitable for further Southern blot analysis thus reducing the number of unnecessary examinations by nearly 75%. This approach may also be useful in the comparative evaluation of primary and secondary lymphomas.