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Pathology Research International
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 164934, 13 pages
Review Article

Diagnosis of B-Cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphomas with Small-/Intermediate-Sized Cells in Cytopathology

Division of Anatomical Pathology, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto, Toronto General Hospital, Room E11-219, Toronto, ON, Canada M5G 2C4

Received 2 February 2012; Accepted 15 March 2012

Academic Editor: Gary Tse

Copyright © 2012 Joerg Schwock and William R. Geddie. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Fine needle sampling is a fast, safe, and potentially cost-effective method of obtaining tissue for cytomorphologic assessment aimed at both initial triage and, in some cases, complete diagnosis of patients that present clinically with lymphadenopathy. The cytologic diagnosis of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas composed of small-/intermediate-sized cells, however, has been seen as an area of great difficulty even for experienced observers due to the morphologic overlap between lymphoma and reactive lymphadenopathies as well as between the lymphoma entities themselves. Although ancillary testing has improved diagnostic accuracy, the results from these tests must be interpreted within the morphological and clinical context to avoid misinterpretation. Importantly, the recognition of specific cytologic features is crucial in guiding the appropriate selection of ancillary tests which will either confirm or refute a tentative diagnosis. For these reasons, we here review the cytologic characteristics particular to five common B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphomas which typically cause the most diagnostic confusion based on cytological assessment alone: marginal zone lymphoma, follicular lymphoma, mantle cell lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma, and lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma. We summarize the most pertinent cytomorphologic features for each entity as well as for reactive lymphoid hyperplasia, contrast them with each other to facilitate their recognition, and highlight common diagnostic pitfalls.