Pleomorphic malignant fibrous histiocytoma: fact or fiction? A critical reappraisal based on 159 tumors diagnosed as pleomorphic sarcoma

Am J Surg Pathol. 1992 Mar;16(3):213-28.


Pleomorphic malignant fibrous histiocytoma (MFH) is regarded as the most common soft tissue sarcoma of adulthood, but no definable criteria exist for its diagnosis. Possibly its only distinctive feature is its apparent lack of specific differentiation. To determine the validity of pleomorphic MFH, 159 tumors diagnosed as pleomorphic sarcomas have been reassessed morphologically, immunohistochemically, and ultrastructurally, where possible. Of these 97 cases (63%) proved to be specific sarcomas other than MFH, 20 proved to be nonmesenchymal neoplasms, and 42 were unclassifiable (of which 21 were either small biopsies or subtotally necrotic). Only 13% of these cases were eligible for consideration as MFH, but these showed no reproducible histological differences from the other tumors studied, nor was this group morphologically consistent. These tumors showed no evidence of true monocyte/macrophage differentiation. It is postulated that pleomorphic MFH is a noncohesive heterogeneous group of poorly differentiated neoplasms, a term that has become a meaningless diagnosis of convenience. With sufficient effort, a specific line of differentiation can be identified in the majority of pleomorphic malignant soft tissue tumors; with advances in investigative technology, the proportion that remain unclassifiable is very likely to diminish further in the future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Histiocytoma, Benign Fibrous / diagnosis
  • Histiocytoma, Benign Fibrous / pathology*
  • Histological Techniques
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Leiomyosarcoma / diagnosis
  • Leiomyosarcoma / pathology
  • Liposarcoma / diagnosis
  • Liposarcoma / pathology
  • Lymphoma / diagnosis
  • Lymphoma / pathology
  • Male
  • Mesenchymoma / diagnosis
  • Mesenchymoma / pathology
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteosarcoma / diagnosis
  • Osteosarcoma / pathology
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma / diagnosis
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma / pathology
  • Sarcoma / diagnosis
  • Sarcoma / pathology*
  • Soft Tissue Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Soft Tissue Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Terminology as Topic