Primary diagnosis and REAL/WHO classification of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma by fine-needle aspiration: cytomorphologic and immunophenotypic approach

Diagn Cytopathol. 2003 Apr;28(4):191-5. doi: 10.1002/dc.10268.


The Revised European American lymphoma (REAL) and World Health Organization (WHO) classification of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) relies on the constellation of cytologic, phenotypic, genotypic, and clinical characteristics of NHL. For the most part, the classification does not rely on architectural pattern for classification of neoplasms. This classification makes it possible to diagnose and classify lymphomas by fine-needle aspiration (FNA). In this study, we attempted to evaluate the accuracy of FNA in diagnosing and classifying NHL within the context of the REAL/WHO classifications. Cases included only those in which FNA was the primary diagnosis, followed by a surgical biopsy for confirmation. Flow cytometry (FCM) for phenotyping was carried out whenever material was available. Two groups of pathologists were identified. Group A consisted of pathologists with background training in cytopathology and/or hematopathology (three pathologists). Group B consisted of experienced surgical pathologists with no training in cytopathology and/or hematopathology (four pathologists). Seventy-four cases were included in the study. FCM phenotyping was performed in 53 cases (71%). Large cell lymphoma constituted 63% of the cases. The remaining lymphomas included Burkitt's, small lymphocytic, lymphoblastic, follicle center cell, Ki-1, mantle cell, marginal zone, and natural killer cell lymphoma. The diagnosis of lymphoma was rendered for all cases. The correct classification was seen in 63% of the cases. Classification was more accurate in immunophenotyped than in nonimmunophenotyped cases (84% vs 33%; P = 0.00004). Group A pathologists showed higher incidence of proper classification than group B (80% vs 56%; P = 0.046). The diagnosis and classification of NHL can be achieved in a large number of cases on FNA material. This accuracy can be increased if cytomorphologic criteria are established for different entities of NHL aided by FCM for phenotyping.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy, Needle*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / classification*
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / diagnosis*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • World Health Organization