The evolving classification of soft tissue tumours: an update based on the new WHO classification

Histopathology. 2006 Jan;48(1):3-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2559.2005.02284.x.


Tumour classifications have become an integral part of modern oncology and, for pathologists, they provide guidelines which facilitate diagnostic and prognostic reproducibility. In many organ systems and most especially over the past decade or so, the World Health Organization (WHO) classifications have become pre-eminent, partly enabled by the timely publication of new "blue books" which now incorporate detailed text and copious illustrations. The new WHO classification of soft tissue tumours was introduced in late 2002 and, because it represents a broad consensus view, it has gained widespread acceptance. This review summarizes the changes, both major and minor, which were introduced and briefly describes the significant number of tumour types which have been first recognized or properly characterized during the past decade. Arguably the four most significant conceptual advances have been: (i) the formal recognition that morphologically benign lesions (such as cutaneous fibrous histiocytoma) may very rarely metastasize; (ii) the general acceptance that most pleomorphic sarcomas can be meaningfully subclassified and that so-called malignant fibrous histiocytoma is not a definable entity, but instead represents a wastebasket of undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcomas, accounting for no more than 5% of adult soft tissue sarcomas; (iii) the acknowledgement that most lesions formerly known as haemangiopericytoma show no evidence of pericytic differentiation and, instead, are fibroblastic in nature and form a morphological continuum with solitary fibrous tumour; and (iv) the increasing appreciation that not only do we not know from which cell type(s) most soft tissue tumours originate (histogenesis) but, for many, we do not recognize their line of differentiation or lineage--hence an increasing number of tumours are placed in the "uncertain differentiation" category.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Sarcoma / classification*
  • Soft Tissue Neoplasms / classification*
  • World Health Organization*