Medical Definition of Burkitt lymphoma

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/4/2018

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 12/4/2018