Burkitt lymphoma is a very fast-growing non-Hodgkin lymphoma that originates from B cells (B lymphocytes). Burkitt lymphoma can develop at any age, but it is most common in children and young adults, particularly males. Unlike other lymphomas, Burkitt lymphoma has a specific geographic distribution: It is most common in central Africa and rare in the United States. Infection with Epstein-Barr virus is associated with Burkitt lymphoma. It is also more common in people who have AIDS.
Burkitt lymphoma grows and spreads quickly, often to the bone marrow, blood, and central nervous system. When it spreads, weakness and fatigue often develop. Large numbers of lymphoma cells may accumulate in the lymph nodes and organs of the abdomen, causing swelling. Lymphoma cells may invade the small intestine, resulting in blockage or bleeding. The neck and jaw may swell, sometimes painfully. To make the diagnosis, doctors do a biopsy of the abnormal tissue and order procedures to stage the disease.
Without treatment, Burkitt lymphoma is rapidly fatal. Rarely, surgery may be needed to remove parts of the intestine that are blocked or bleeding or have ruptured. Intensive chemotherapy, which includes chemotherapy to the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord to prevent spread to these areas, can cure more than 90% of people.
Last full review/revision October 2012 by Carol S. Portlock, MD