What is Burkitt's Lymphoma?
Burkitt’s lymphoma is a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This cancer starts in a type of immune cells, called B-cells, and the disease causes impaired immunity. While it can be cured, if left untreated it will quickly grow.
The highest incidence of Burkitt’s lymphoma is in Africa, where it may occur in children and young adults in association with malaria and the Epstein-Barr infection. In the United States, this cancer is most often associated with immune deficiency such as HIV.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with cancer and the diagnosis, treatment and management of Burkitt’s lymphoma. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of the types of Burkitt’s lymphoma most common in the United States include:
- A bulky tumor in the abdomen
- Bone or joint pain
- Facial or jaw swelling
- Loss of appetite
- Night sweats
- Painless swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, chest, abdomen, groin and arm pit
- Recurring infections
- Unexplained fever
- Unintentional weight loss
To determine if someone has Burkitt’s lymphoma, we ask about medical history and do a physical exam. We also use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
Biopsy: The physician may remove a sample of abnormal cells from an enlarged lymph node or tumor, via a needle or small incision, and examine it under the microscope for signs of lymphoma. A bone marrow biopsy may be done to examine the number, appearance and maturity of cells in the one marrow.
Blood and urine tests: Using these tests, the physician can check organ function and the number and types of cells in the blood.
Chest X-ray: X-rays are common imaging tests to look at internal organs, bone and tissues.
Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of detailed pictures of the inside of the body, taken from different angles, are created by a computer linked to an X-ray machine.
HIV testing: Because this type of lymphoma is sometimes associated with HIV, a blood test for the virus can support the diagnosis.
Lumbar puncture: For this test, the spine is numbed and a thin needle is injected to collect a small sample of spinal fluid. The fluid is examined to look for lymphoma cells.
The exact cause of Burkitt’s lymphoma is unknown. There are some specific genetic changes in chromosomes that are known to occur with Burkitt’s lymphoma, although the cause of those mutations is not known.
Risk factors that can contribute to Burkitt’s lymphoma include:
Age: Burkitt’s lymphoma is more common in children and young adults.
Epstein-Barr infection: This is associated with the endemic type of Burkitt’s lymphoma found in African children. It’s unknown if it plays a role in U.S. disease development.
Gender: Burkitt’s lymphoma affects twice as many males than females.
HIV: In the U.S., immunodeficiency-related Burkitt’s lymphoma is most often associated with HIV.
There is no known prevention for Burkitt’s lymphoma. Using protection (condoms) during sex and avoiding intravenous drug use can effectively prevent HIV infection, which is associated with immunodeficiency-related Burkitt’s lymphoma.
Early diagnosis and treatment of Burkitt’s lymphoma is important. Prognosis is more favorable in the case of limited, localized disease.
Treatment and Recovery
Treatment for Burkitt’s lymphoma includes:
This treatment uses special drugs, injected into the bloodstream, to kill cancer cells. This treatment usually involves a hospital stay. Because Burkitt’s lymphoma can also spread to fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, chemotherapy drugs may also be administered directly into that fluid.
In some cases, people with Burkitt’s lymphoma may also undergo radiation treatments, steroid therapy or autologous or allogeneic stem cell transplantation. Autologous transplants use stem cells which are removed before, and then returned to the body after, intensive chemotherapy. Allogeneic stem cell transplants use stem cells from another person, which are infused into the body after intensive chemotherapy.
Burkitt’s lymphoma and some of its treatments can result in complications. These include:
Infections: Burkitt’s lymphoma, HIV infection and chemotherapy treatments which suppress the immune system can all put a person at risk for infections.
Spread of the cancer (metastasis): Burkitt’s lymphoma can spread to the abdominal organs, bone marrow, brain and spinal cord.
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