Burkitt Lymphoma

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Burkitt lymphoma facts

  • Burkitt lymphomas are aggressive B-cell cancers that require urgent diagnosis and therapy.
  • The cause of these lymphomas is not known, but does involve a change in chromosome 8 and may be related to infections such as malaria and/or Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infections.
  • There are many signs and symptoms associated with Burkitt's lymphoma; most commonly, the symptoms include abdominal and/or jaw masses, nausea and vomiting, headaches, visual impairment, and possibly renal, gastrointestinal, and other central nervous system problems.
  • Diagnosis is by tissue biopsy although other studies are usually done to further define and localize this cancer.
  • The two major staging systems for Burkitt lymphomas are from the National Cancer Institute and the Ann Arbor and St. Jude/Murphy systems.
  • The prognosis for children is good and for adults is fair if the diagnosis and treatment begin early.
  • Follow-up care is important to monitor possible complications and/or reoccurrence of the disease.

What are Burkitt lymphomas?

Burkitt lymphomas are aggressive B-cell cancers (non-Hodgkin type of lymphomas) that frequently involve aggressive progression in the bone marrow and in the central nervous system. Burkitt lymphoma (also known as small non-cleaved cell lymphoma and Burkitt's lymphoma) has a variant termed Burkitt-like lymphoma or BLL. Other types of Burkitt lymphoma are termed as follows:

  • Endemic or African is a type that usually involves the jaw and the facial bones.
  • Sporadic Burkitt lymphoma involves abdominal tumors.
  • Immunodeficiency-related Burkitt lymphoma has lymph node and bone marrow involvement.

The WHO (World Health Organization) suggests that there is little difference between Burkitt lymphoma and BLL and considers them essentially the same disease. The other variants are classified under the term Burkitt lymphoma. For the purposes of this article, we will discuss only Burkitt lymphoma and will not discuss small differences in subtypes. Because of their rapid progression, these lymphomas are considered medical emergencies that require fast diagnosis and treatment.

Burkitt lymphomas comprise about 1% to 2% of all lymphomas. The African variety usually starts as a jaw tumor while in United States, they usually begin as an abdominal tumor. About 90% of these lymphomas occur in males. In Africa, they occur mainly in children while in United States, the average age of onset is 30 years.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2015

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