Burkitt's Lymphoma Cancer

A type of cancer, lymphoma was first discovered by Thomas Hodgkin's in 1832; since then, lymphoma has been commonly divided into Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Burkitt's lymphoma was first described by the surgeon Denis Parsons Burkitt in 1956, while he was working in equatorial Africa, and is a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer. However, Burkitt's lymphoma is not only present on the African subcontinent, but may be found in any part of the world including Britain, though most commonly in a slightly different form. It is most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults, and affects more males than it does females.

Forms of Burkitt’s Lymphoma

Burkitt’s lymphoma can be further divided into three specific types. These are briefly outlined below:

  • Immunodeficiency associated Burkitt’s lymphoma – this is a type of Burkitt’s lymphoma which is most commonly found in those suffering from diseases that suppress the immune system, such as HIV or AIDS, or those who take immunosuppressive drugs for a prolonged period of time (such as after an organ transplant, where these drugs at prescribed in order to ensure that the recipient’s immune system does not ‘fight’ the new organ).
  • Endemic Burkitt’s Lymphoma – this is the type of Burkitt’s which is most commonly found in the African subcontinent, and the form that was initially described by Burkitt as mentioned above. This form of Burkitt’s lymphoma has been found to be strongly linked to glandular fever, and in particular to the virus that causes it; the Epstein-Barr virus. Unusual for other forms of Burkitt’s lymphoma, Endemic such commonly affects the jaw bone.
  • Sporadic Burkitt’s lymphoma – while this has also been linked to the Epstein-Barr virus and glandular fever, the link is less strong and clean than that found between the virus and the Endemic form of Burkitt’s. This form of Burkitt’s is more common in the UK.

Symptoms of Burkitt’s Lymphoma

As with other forms of lymphoma cancer, symptoms of Burkitt’s commonly include the swelling of lymph nodes. In particular, Burkitt’s is likely to affect nodes in the abdomen and may lead to a fully or partially blocked bowel – though it can also affect nodes in the throat and chest. Also in common with other forms of lymphoma are the so-called B symptoms which it can present, and these include sudden weight loss, nightly sweats and high temperatures (fever).

Diagnosis of Burkitt’s Lymphoma

The most common and reliable form of diagnosis is the biopsy of an enlarged lymph node. This is a small procedure and as such it can be performed relatively quickly and without the need to sedate the patient; local anaesthetic is usually sufficient. The lymph node is then examined under a microscope in order to established whether or not the patient is indeed suffering from Burkitt’s.

Treatment of Burkitt’s Lymphoma

By far the most common treatment of Burkitt’s Lymphoma is chemotherapy. This is an intensive treatment and the patient will be required to stay in hospital for several weeks. Alternative and less common treatments include stem cell treatment, monoclonal antibody treatment and steroid therapy.

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