Aims: To test the reproducibility of the current World Health Organization (WHO) classification of thymic epithelial tumours and to determine the level of interobserver variation within a group of pathologists, all with experience and expertise in thoracic pathology.
Methods and results: Ninety-five thymic tumours were circulated to a group of 17 pathologists in the UK and The Netherlands over a 1-year period. Participants were asked to classify them according to WHO criteria. The diagnoses were subjected to statistical analysis and kappa values calculated. The overall level of agreement was moderate (kappa 0.45). When the categories were reduced in number by creating two groups, (A + AB + B1 + B2 and B3 + C), the level of agreement increased to 0.62. An alternative grouping (A + AB + B1 and B2 + B3 + C) increased it slightly further. The best agreement was in tumour types A and AB. Difficulties arose in distinguishing B1 tumours from B2 tumours and B2 tumours from B3 tumours.
Conclusions: Although the WHO system describes a number of well-defined tumour types with clear diagnostic criteria, the overall level of agreement was moderate and improved if some groups were amalgamated.