The World Health Organization Reporting System for Lung Cytopathology

Acta Cytol. 2023;67(1):80-91. doi: 10.1159/000527580. Epub 2022 Dec 12.


The International Academy of Cytology has joined with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to bring together a group of experts in lung cytopathology to develop a WHO Reporting System for Lung Cytopathology (WHO System). This WHO System defines five categories for reporting lung cytopathology, that is, "Insufficient"/"Inadequate"/"Non-diagnostic," "Benign," "Atypical," "Suspicious for malignancy," and "Malignant," each with a clear descriptive term for the category, a definition, a risk of malignancy and a suggested management algorithm. The key diagnostic cytopathology features of each of the lesions within each category have been established by consensus and will be presented more fully in a subsequent IARC e-book and published hard cover book.The WHO System provides the best practice application of ancillary testing, including immunocytochemistry and molecular pathology, and provides a review to guide sampling and processing techniques to optimize the handling and preparation of the cytopathology sample emphasizing the cytomorphological differential diagnosis to aid low-resourced settings. The authors recognize that local medical and pathology resources will vary, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, and have developed the WHO System to make it applicable worldwide based on cytomorphology with options for further diagnostic management of the patient.The online WHO System provides a direct link to the WHO Tumour Classification for Thoracic Tumours 5th Edition. It will raise the profile and use of cytopathology by increasing awareness of its current role and its potential role in the era of personalized medicine based on molecular pathology utilizing "small biopsies." Ultimately, the System will improve patient care and outcomes.This System aims to improve and standardize the reporting of cytopathology, facilitate communication between cytopathologists and clinicians and improve patient care. The System is based on the current role of lung cytopathology and synthesizes the existing evidence while highlighting areas requiring further research and the future potential role of lung cytopathology.

Keywords: Fine needle aspirate biopsies; International Academy of Cytology; Lung cytology; WHO Reporting Systems for cytopathology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle
  • Cytodiagnosis
  • Humans
  • Lung
  • Pathology, Clinical*