Signs and Symptoms of Burkitt's Lymphoma

Named after Denis Parsons Burkitt, a surgeon working in equatorial Africa, Burkitt’s lymphoma (also Burkitt lymphoma or Burkitt’s tumor) is a non-Hodgkin type of lymphoma first described in 1956. It is relatively rare and affects the patient’s B lymphocytes. The signs and symptoms of Burkitt’s lymphoma are similar to other lymphatic cancers.

In general, Burkitt’s lymphoma affeccts children and young adults, and tends to be present in boys more often than women. Broadly speaking, there are two varieties of Burkitt’s lymphoma, endemic and sporadic.

  • Endemic Burkitt’s lymphoma occurs in equatorial Africa, often affecting children who have had malaria. It is believed that malaria lowers a child’s resistance to Epstein-Barr virus, which allows the lymphoma to take hold. According to some estimates, nearly half of the childhood cancers in Africa are Burkitt’s lymphoma, and over 95 percent of cases are linked to Epstein-Barr virus.

    A distinctive feature of this cancer is that it tends to disproportionately affect the jawbone or other facial bones, as well as the distal ileum, cecum, ovaries, or kidneys. Cancerous growths in the jawbone are very rare in the second form the disease.

  • Sporadic Burkitt’s lymphoma (also called non-African Burkitt’s lyphoma) is a distinct form of the disease, though cancer cells will often appear similar to endemic Burkitt’s. It is also related to Epstein-Barr virus and tends to affect the ileo-cecal region more frequently than the jaw.

There is a third type, immunodeficiency-associated Burkitt’s, that is not recognized by all oncologists. It occurs in AIDS patients or in those who are receiving immunosuppressive drugs after a transplant.

Primary signs and symptoms of Burkitt’s lymphoma include the following:

  • Lymph nodes growing together into a lump
  • Non-tender lymph nodes
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the abdomen, chest or throat
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Blockage of the bowel

Secondary or B symptoms can include the following:

  • Unexplained fever
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss

Burkitt’s lymphoma is a fast-spreading cancer, and chemotherapy must be started immediately upon diagnosis. It is, however, a relatively curable form of lymphoma, responding well to aggressive chemotherapy, with a survival rate of nearly 80 percent of localized cases and over half of widespread cases.

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