• Burkitt’s Lymphoma Overview

    Burkitt’s lymphoma is a rare, aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that primarily affects children. This B-cell cancer of the lymphatic system has what are considered “noncleaved” cells, meaning they have no folds or indentations when viewed under a microscope.

    Burkitt’s lymphoma often develops in the abdomen and spreads to other organs but can start anywhere in the body that lymph tissue is found, including lymph nodes and skin.  Although there is a clear association of malaria and Burkitt’s lymphoma in Africa, this association is not seen in the United States.   Most cases of Burkitt’s lymphoma have a  chromosomal rearrangement between chromosome 8 and chromosome 14, which causes genes to change positions and function differently, promoting uncontrolled cell growth.

    Burkitt’s Lymphoma Treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's

    Patients with Burkitt’s lymphoma are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through the Lymphoma Program. Continue reading to learn more about Burkitt’s lymphoma or visit the Lymphoma Program homepage to learn about our expertise and treatment options for this condition.

    Symptoms & Diagnosis

    Most children have stage III (tumors in multiple sites, but not in the bone marrow or central nervous system) or IV (tumors that have bone marrow or central nervous system involvement) disease when they are diagnosed. The disease can progress rapidly, within days or weeks, and a child could go from being otherwise healthy to having multi-system involvement in a short period of time.

    The most common symptoms of Burkitt’s lymphoma are:

    • Painless swelling of the lymph nodes of the neck, chest, abdomen, underarm or groin
    • Abdominal pain and/or swelling
    • Fullness in groin from node involvement
    • Bone and joint pain
    • Night sweats
    • Tiring easily
    • Weight loss

    Because Burkitt’s lymphoma can grow very quickly, a timely and accurate diagnosis is critical. Tests to make a diagnosis include:

    • Complete medical history and physical examination
    • Blood and urine tests
    • Biopsy from a lymph node or other affected body part
    • Diagnostic imaging scans from the neck to pelvis
    • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy
    • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)

    Other tests that may be done include:

    • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan
    • Chest-x-ray.

    After all tests are completed, doctors will be able to outline the best treatment options, including clinical trials.

    Treatment & Care

    Treatment options for Burkitt’s Lymphoma includes:

    • Chemotherapy is always used but the exact drugs used and total duration of treatment vary by the stage of the lymphoma.   
    • Surgery is rarely used for treatment but may be necessary for a biopsy.
    • Radiation treatment is rarely used.
    • Stem cell transplant is rarely used except as part of treatment for progressive or recurrent disease.

    These treatment options may be given alone or in some combination.

    Progressive or Recurrent Disease

    There is no standard treatment for progressive or recurrent Burkitt’s lymphoma, and survival rates are as low as 10 percent to 20 percent. Patients with recurrent or progressive disease may opt for inclusion in a clinical trial.

    Long-term Outlook

    Despite its fast-growing nature, Burkitt’s lymphoma is one of the most curable forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. More than 90 percent of children with localized tumors and more than 85% with widespread disease are cured.
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