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Children's Health

How to identify Burkitt’s lymphoma: A common type of childhood cancer

Dr. Feyi



Cancer is a group of diseases that develop when cells divide abnormally and spread to areas in the body where they are not usually found.

Burkitt lymphoma was named after a British Surgeon -Dennis Burkitt, who first identified this unusual disease in 1956 among children in Africa. It is a fast growing type of blood cancer which develops when the body makes abnormal B-lymphocytes – a kind of white blood cell that fights against bacteria, viruses, parasites or other foreign substances.

Types of Burkitt lymphoma

Endemic Burkitt Lymphoma (BL) – it mainly affects African children between 4 to 9 and is more common in boys . It is associated with chronic malaria and strongly linked with a virus called Epstein Barr (EBV).

Sporadic Burkitt Lymphoma (BL)– occurs worldwide .

Immunodeficiency -associated Burkitt Lymphoma (BL)– found in people with supressed immunity e.g HIV/AIDS patients , organ transplant recipient.

Symptoms (ways to identify)
This depends on the type but generally these abnormal B-lymphocytes build up in one area of the body and form a lump (tumor).

1)Rapidly enlarging ,non tender lymph nodes in the neck or jaw
2) Abdomen- causes swelling ,pain , nausea, diarrhea .
3)Jaw swelling , sore throat, difficulty swallowing.
It can also spread to the breasts, ovaries, central nervous system
Other symptoms include
4)weight loss
5)night sweat
6) High temperature
7) loss of appetite

Having one or more of these symptoms does not mean that a person has burkitt lymphoma. These symptoms may be caused by an infection or other conditions (including other cancers). Any child noticed to have any of these symptoms for greater than two weeks or less depending on severity should see a doctor.

Tissue Biopsy- a sample of the affected part (tissue) is removed and examined under the microscope. This will confirm or rule out Burkitt lymphoma.

Imaging tests– Chest Xray,CT and MRI scanning might be needed to find out how far the lymphoma has spread (staging ).

Blood test may also be needed .

Samples from the bone marrow,cerebro-spinal fluid aspiration may be taken depending on the location of the tumor .

1)Chemotherapy – this is a major treatment that involves use of drugs to destroy the cancer cells. A combination of drugs are used depending on the stage of the cancer and other factors.

2)Bone marrow transplantation may be performed if the disease is recurrent or extensive.

3) Radiation therapy

4) Surgery has been used in conjunction with other treatments for abdominal tumors.

Prognosis of Burkitt lymphoma

This is a medical term doctors use for predicting how the disease will progress and the likelihood of recovery.
Prognosis is poor if left untreated i.e fatal outcome.
Early detection and prompt treatment usually leads to long term survival rates.

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Dr. Feyi is a graduate of Olabisi Onabanjo University who is on a mission to render service as a clear channel for God's love. She is an MDCN(Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria) certified doctor. When she is not busy saving lives, you can find her cooking, watching movies or traveling round the world.