||BACKGROUND: Clinical investigations have shown prognostic heterogeneity within the non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (NHLs) according to histology, but few descriptive studies have considered NHLs by subgroup. Our purpose is to assess the demographic patterns and any notable increases in population-based rates of different histologic subgroups of NHL. METHODS: Using data collected by the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program of the National Cancer Institute, we calculated incidence rates for the major clinicopathologic categories of NHL by age, race, sex, geographic area, and time period. RESULTS: Among the 60 057 NHL cases diagnosed during the period from 1978 through 1995, total incidence (per 100 000 person-years) was 17.1 and 11.5 among white males and females, respectively, and 12.6 and 7.4 among black males and females, respectively. However, rates for follicular NHLs were two to three times greater among whites than among blacks, with little sex variation. Blacks demonstrated much higher incidence than whites for peripheral T-cell NHL, with the incidence rates higher in males than in females. For other NHL subgroups, the incidence rates for persons less than 60 years of age were generally higher among males than among females, with little racial difference; at older ages, the rates were higher among whites than among blacks, with little sex difference. High-grade NHL was the most rapidly rising subtype, particularly among males. Follicular NHL increased more rapidly in black males than in the other three race/sex groups. Overall, the broad categories of small lymphocytic, follicular, diffuse, high-grade, and peripheral T-cell NHL emerged as distinct entities with specific age, sex, racial, temporal, and geographic variations in rates. CONCLUSIONS: Findings from our large, population-based study reveal differing demographic patterns and incidence trends according to histologic group. Future descriptive and analytic investigations should evaluate NHL risks according to subtype, as defined by histology and new classification criteria.