What is the French-American-British (FAB) classification of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)?

Updated: Feb 20, 2020
  • Author: Karen Seiter, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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The older, traditional classification of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the French-American-British (FAB) classification. This has now been replaced by the newer World Health Organization (WHO) classification but the FAB system is listed for historical purposes, as follows:

  • L1 – Small cells with homogeneous chromatin, regular nuclear shape, small or absent nucleolus, and scanty cytoplasm; subtype represents 25-30% of adult cases

  • L2 – Large and heterogeneous cells, heterogeneous chromatin, irregular nuclear shape, and nucleolus often large; subtype represents 70% of cases (most common)

  • L3 – Large and homogeneous cells with multiple nucleoli, moderate deep blue cytoplasm, and cytoplasmic vacuolization that often overlies the nucleus (most prominent feature); subtype represents 1-2% of adult cases

The WHO classifies the L1 and L2 subtypes of ALL as either precursor B lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoblastic lymphoma (see the following image) or precursor T lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoblastic lymphoma depending on the cell of origin. The L3 subtype of ALL is included in the group of mature B-cell neoplasms, as the subtype Burkitt lymphoma/leukemia.

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