Burkitt lymphoma

Cancer 101: Cancer Explained

Medical Definition of Burkitt lymphoma

Burkitt lymphoma: A type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) that most often occurs in young people between the ages of 12 and 30, accounting for 40% to 50% of childhood NHL. The disease usually causes a rapidly growing tumor in the abdomen. Up to 90% of these tumors are in the abdomen. Other sites of involvement include the testis, sinuses, bone, lymph nodes, skin, bone marrow, and central nervous system.

Burkitt lymphoma is a small noncleaved cell lymphoma of B-cell origin. About 25% of Burkitt lymphomas contain Epstein-Barr virus genomes. Burkitt lymphoma is due to a characteristic chromosomal translocation, usually a t(8;14) translocation or, less often, a t(8;22) or t(2;8) translocation. Each of these translocations juxtaposes the c-myc oncogene with immunoglobulin locus regulatory elements, resulting in the inappropriate expression of c-myc, a gene involved in cellular proliferation.

Named for Denis Burkitt (1911-1993), a British surgeon who worked for many years in Africa. There he saw two children in rapid succession in 1957 with fast-growing, fatal tumors of the head and neck, assembled similar cases from other hospitals in Africa, and in 1958 reported what is now called Burkitt lymphoma.


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Reviewed on 6/9/2016

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