Burkitt’s lymphoma is a rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It is common in children living in sub-Saharan Africa but can also occur in any person with a compromised immune system.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer of the lymphatic system, which helps your body fight infections. The cancer is related to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and chronic malaria.

It can cause symptoms like fever, weight loss, and night sweats. It has also been seen in the United States.

The symptoms of Burkitt’s lymphoma vary according to type.

Sporadic Burkitt’s lymphoma

The symptoms of sporadic Burkitt’s lymphoma include:

Endemic Burkitt’s lymphoma

The symptoms of endemic Burkitt’s lymphoma include swelling and distortion of facial bones and a rapid growth of lymph nodes. The enlarged lymph nodes are non-tender. Tumors can grow extremely quickly, sometimes doubling their size within 18 hours.

Immunodeficiency-related lymphoma

The symptoms of immunodeficiency-related lymphoma are similar to those of the sporadic type.

The exact cause of Burkitt’s lymphoma is unknown.

Risk factors vary according to geographic location. Research suggests that Burkitt’s lymphoma is the most common childhood cancer in regions where there is a high incidence of malaria, like Africa. Elsewhere, the greatest risk factor is HIV.

The three types of Burkitt’s lymphoma are sporadic, endemic, and immunodeficiency-related. The types differ by geographic location and the parts of the body they affect.

Sporadic Burkitt’s lymphoma

Sporadic Burkitt’s lymphoma does occur outside of Africa, but it’s rare in the other parts of the world. It’s sometimes associated with EBV. It tends to affect the lower abdomen, where the small intestine ends and the large intestine begins.

Endemic Burkitt’s lymphoma

This type of Burkitt’s lymphoma is most often seen in Africa near the equator, where it’s associated with chronic malaria and EBV. The facial bones and jaw are most often affected. But the small intestine, kidneys, ovaries, and breast may also be involved.

Immunodeficiency-related lymphoma

This type of Burkitt’s lymphoma is associated with the use of immunosuppressive drugs like those used to prevent transplant rejection and to treat HIV.

Burkitt’s lymphoma is most likely to affect children. It’s rare in adults. The disease is more common in males and people with compromised immune systems, like those who have HIV. The incidence is higher in:

  • North Africa
  • Middle East
  • South America
  • Papua New Guinea

Sporadic and endemic forms are associated with EBV. Insect-borne viral infections and herbal extracts that promote tumor growth are possible contributing factors.

A diagnosis of Burkitt’s lymphoma begins with a medical history and physical examination. A biopsy of tumors confirms the diagnosis. The bone marrow and central nervous system are often involved. Bone marrow and spinal fluid are usually examined to see how far the cancer has spread.

Burkitt’s lymphoma is staged according to lymph node and organ involvement. The involvement of bone marrow or the central nervous system means you have stage 4. A CT scan and MRI scan can help pinpoint which organs and lymph nodes are involved.

Burkitt’s lymphoma is usually treated with combination chemotherapy. Chemotherapy agents used in the treatment of Burkitt’s lymphoma include:

Monoclonal antibody treatment with rituximab may be combined with chemotherapy. Radiation treatment may also be used with chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy drugs are injected directly into the spinal fluid to prevent the cancer from spreading to the central nervous system. This method of injection is referred to as “intrathecal.” People who get intensive chemotherapy treatment have been associated with best outcomes.

In countries with limited medical resources, treatment is often less intensive and less successful.

Children with Burkitt’s lymphoma have been shown to have the best outlook.

The presence of intestinal obstruction requires surgery.

The outcome depends on the stage at diagnosis. The outlook is often worse in adults over age 40, but treatment for adults has improved in recent years. The outlook is poor in people who have HIV. It’s significantly better in people whose cancer hasn’t spread.