Introduction: Since 1995, the European Association of Pathologists (EAHP) and the Society for Hematopathology (SH) have been developing a new World Health Organization (WHO) classification of haematological malignancies. The classification includes lymphoid, myeloid, histiocytic and mast cell neoplasms.
Design: The WHO project involves 10 committees of pathologists, who have developed lists and definitions of disease entities. A Clinical Advisory Committee (CAC) of international haematologists and oncologists was formed to ensure that the classification will be useful to clinicians. A meeting was held in November 1997 to discuss clinical issues related to the classification.
Results: The WHO has adopted the 'Revised European-American Classification of Lymphoid Neoplasms' (REAL), published in 1994 by the International Lymphoma Study Group (ILSG), as the classification of lymphoid neoplasms. This approach to classification is based on the principle that a classification is a list of 'real' disease entities, which are defined by a combination of morphology, immunophenotype, genetic features and clinical features. The relative importance of each of these features varies among diseases, and there is no one 'gold standard'. The WHO classification has applied the principles of the REAL classification to myeloid and histiocytic neoplasms. The classification of myeloid neoplasms recognizes distinct entities defined by a combination of morphology and cytogenetic abnormalities. The CAC meeting, which was organized around a series of clinical questions, was able to reach a consensus on most of the questions posed. The questions and the consensus are discussed in detail below. Among other things, the CAC concluded that clinical groupings of lymphoid neoplasms was neither necessary nor desirable. Patient treatment is determined by the specific type of lymphoma, with the addition of grade within the tumour type, if applicable, and clinical prognostic factors such as the international prognostic index (IPI).
Conclusion: The experience of developing the WHO classification has produced a new and exciting degree of cooperation and communication between oncologists and pathologists from around the world, which should facilitate progress in the understanding and treatment of haematological malignancies.