We recently discovered the Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpes virus (KSHV/HHV-8) in an uncommon and unusual subset of AIDS-related lymphomas that grow mainly in the body cavities as lymphomatous effusions without an identifiable contiguous tumor mass. The consistent presence of KSHV and certain other distinctive features of these body cavity-based lymphomas suggest that they represent a distinct entity. We tested this hypothesis by investigating 19 malignant lymphomatous effusions occurring in the absence of a contiguous tumor mass for their clinical, morphologic, immunophenotypic, viral, and molecular characteristics, KSHV was present in 15 of 19 lymphomas. All four KSHV- negative lymphomatous effusions exhibited Burkitt or Burkitt-like morphology and c-myc gene rearrangements and, therefore, appeared to be Burkitt-type lymphomas occurring in the body cavities. In contrast, all 15 KSHV-positive lymphomatous effusions exhibited a distinctive morphology bridging large-cell immunoblastic lymphoma and anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, and all 12 cases studied lacked c-myc gene rearrangements. In addition, these lymphomas occurred in men (15/15), frequently but not exclusively in association with HIV infection (13/15), in which homosexuality was a risk factor (13/13), presented initially as a lymphomatous effusion (14/15), remained localized to the body cavity of origin (13/15), expressed CD45 (15/15) and one or more activation-associated antigens (9/10) in the frequent absence of B-cell- associated antigens (11/15), exhibited clonal immunoglobulin gene rearrangements (13/13), contained Epstein-Barr virus (14/15), and lacked bcl-2, bcl-6, ras and p53 gene alterations (13/15). These findings strongly suggest that the KSHV-positive malignant lymphomatous effusions represent a distinct clinicopathologic and biologic entity and should be distinguished from other malignant lymphomas occurring in the body cavities. Therefore, we recommend that these malignant lymphomas be designated primary effusion lymphomas (PEL), rather than body cavity-based lymphomas, since this term describes them more accurately and avoids their confusion with other malignant lymphomas that occur in the body cavities. We further recommend that these PEL be considered for inclusion as a new entity in the Revised European- American Lymphoma Classification.