Bone marrow staging of patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma by flow cytometry: correlation with morphology

Cancer. 2000 Feb 15;88(4):894-9.


Background: Immunophenotypic analysis is an established tool in the diagnosis and classification of many hematolymphoid disorders; however, the role of flow cytometry (FC) in detecting bone marrow involvement during the staging of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) has yet to be defined.

Methods: The authors retrospectively analyzed 157 staging and 70 restaging bone marrow biopsies on which morphologic and FC analyses were performed; these biopsies were taken from 195 consecutive patients. Bone marrow biopsies were blindly and independently reviewed and determined to be positive, negative, or suspicious for morphologic involvement by NHL, with disagreements settled by a third reviewer. A selected panel of monoclonal antibodies was used to determine whether bone marrow involvement was immunophenotypically positive (>5%), minimal (<5%), negative, or nondiagnostic.

Results: FC and morphology agreed in 78% of cases (178 of 227: 129 both negative, 49 both positive) and were discrepant in 22% (49 of 227). Seven percent (16 of 227) were morphologically positive but showed no evidence of disease on FC, whereas 12% (27 of 227) were positive by FC but had no morphologic involvement. Of the 162 morphologically negative or suspicious bone marrows, 27 were shown to be involved by FC, resulting in a false-negative detection rate of 17%. Most of these (22 of 27, 81%) had minimal detectable disease. Seven percent of Stage I and 26% of Stage II NHL cases with negative staging bone marrow morphologically were found to be involved by FC.

Conclusions: Neither morphologic examination of bone marrow biopsy specimens nor FC alone is adequate to detect all cases of NHL with bone marrow involvement. FC is most sensitive for detecting minimal bone marrow lymphoma, whereas morphology will detect most cases in which involvement is >5%. Cases of early stage NHL with morphologically negative bone marrow could potentially be restaged as Stage IV on the basis of FC results. The clinical importance of minimal bone marrow involvement by NHL needs further evaluation.

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, CD / analysis
  • Biopsy
  • Bone Marrow / pathology*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / immunology
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Antigens, CD