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Mod Pathol. 2001 Mar;14(3):219-28.

Anaplastic large cell lymphoma: the shifting sands of diagnostic hematopathology.

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  • 1Hematopathology Section, Laboratory of Pathology, Division of Clinical Sciences, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-1500, USA.


Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) is a paradigm for the process used to define new disease entities, and provides a model that is applicable to all areas of pathology. ALCL was first recognized based on characteristic histologic features (sinusoidal invasion) and a distinctive immunophenotype (CD30+). However, neither sinusoidal invasion nor CD30-positivity proved to be entirely specific. Subsequently, a characteristic cytogenetic abnormality was identified, the t(2;5), that led to identification of the genes involved in the translocation (NPM/ALK) and insights into the pathogenesis. Generation of monoclonal antibodies to the aberrantly expressed anaplastic large cell lymphoma kinase (ALK) such as ALK-1 can be used diagnostically, and have led to improved definition of the diagnostic entity with important clinical and prognostic implications. These studies also have clarified the relationship of ALCL to Hodgkin's disease, another lymphoid malignancy associated with CD30 expression. We have learned that the ultimate histologic spectrum of ALCL is both narrower and broader than originally believed. The small cell and lymphohistiocytic variants of ALCL are ALK-positive, and are an accepted part of the disease entity, although the neoplastic cells may appear neither large nor anaplastic. Conversely, most cases of Hodgkin's-like ALCL have proved to be more closely related to true Hodgkin's disease, and are unrelated to ALCL.

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