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Burkitt Lymphoma

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Updated January 20, 2007

Burkitt’s lymphoma (or Burkitt Lymphoma) is an uncommon type of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL). Burkitt’s lymphoma commonly affects children. It is a highly aggressive type of B-cell lymphoma that often starts and involves body parts other than lymph nodes. In spite of its fast-growing nature, Burkitt’s lymphoma is often curable with modern intensive therapies.

Two types of Burkitt's lymphoma:

There are two broad types of Burkitt’s lymphoma – the sporadic and the endemic varieties. There is a very high incidence of this disease in equatorial Africa, and disease in this region is called endemic Burkitt’s lymphoma. Disease in other regions of the world is much less common, and is called sporadic Burkitt’s lymphoma. Though they are the same disease, the two forms are different in many ways.

Endemic Burkitt’s lymphoma:

In equatorial Africa, about half of all childhood cancers are Burkitt’s lymphoma. The disease involves children much more than adults, and is related to Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) infection in 95% cases. It characteristically has a high chance of involving the jawbone, a rather distinctive feature that is rare in sporadic Burkitt’s. It also commonly involves the abdomen.

Sporadic Burkitt’s lymphoma :

The type of Burkitt’s lymphoma that affects the rest of the world, including Europe and the Americas is the sporadic type. Here too, it's mainly a disease in children. The link between Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) is not as strong as with the endemic variety, though direct evidence of EBV infection is present in one out of five patients. More than the involvement of lymph nodes, it is the abdomen that is notably affected in more than 90% of the children. Bone marrow involvement is more common than in the sporadic variety. Jaw involvement is extremely rare.

Treatment of Burkitt’s lymphoma:

Burkitt’s lymphoma is a highly aggressive tumor, and often life threatening. But it is also one of the more curable forms of lymphoma. With current aggressive forms of chemotherapy that uses drugs in high doses, and with the availability of new measures to support individuals during intensive treatment, this lymphoma is curable in many patients. Nearly 80% of those with localized disease and more than half the children with more widespread disease are cured. Late relapses are hardly seen.

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