Symptoms of Burkitt Lymphoma
The symptoms of Burkitt lymphoma depend on the type. The endemic (African) variant usually starts as tumors of the jaw or other facial bones. It also can affect the gastrointestinal tract, ovaries, and breasts and can spread to the central nervous system, causing nerve damage, weakness, and paralysis.
The types more commonly seen in the U.S. -- sporadic and immunodeficiency-associated -- usually start in the bowel and form a bulky tumor mass in the abdomen, often with massive involvement of the liver, spleen, and bone marrow. These variants also can start in the ovaries, testes, or other organs, and spread to the brain and spinal fluid.
Other symptoms associated with Burkitt lymphoma include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Unexplained fever
Diagnosis of Burkitt Lymphoma
Because Burkitt lymphoma spreads so quickly, prompt diagnosis is essential.
If Burkitt lymphoma is suspected, all or part of an enlarged lymph node or other suspicious disease site will be biopsied. In a biopsy, a sample of tissue is examined under a microscope. This will confirm or rule out Burkitt lymphoma.
Additional tests may include:
- Computed tomographic (CT) imaging of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis
- Chest X-ray
- PET or gallium scan
- Bone marrow biopsy
- Exam of spinal fluid
- Blood tests to measure kidney and liver function
- Testing for HIV disease.
Treatments for Burkitt Lymphoma
Intensive intravenous chemotherapy -- which usually involves a hospital stay -- is the preferred treatment for Burkitt lymphoma. Because Burkitt lymphoma can spread to the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, chemotherapy drugs also may be injected directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, a treatment known as intrathecal chemotherapy.
Examples of drugs that may be used in various combinations for Burkitt lymphoma include:
Other treatments for Burkitt lymphoma may include intensive chemotherapy in combination with:
- Rituximab (Rituxan), a monoclonal antibody that sticks to proteins on cancer cells and stimulates the immune system to attack cancer cells
- Autologous stem cell transplantation, in which the patient's stem cells are removed, stored, and returned to the body
- Radiation therapy
- Steroid therapy
In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove parts of the intestine that are blocked, bleeding, or have ruptured.
Prognosis for Burkitt Lymphoma
Burkitt lymphoma is fatal if left untreated. In children, prompt intensive chemotherapy usually cures Burkitt lymphoma, leading to long-term survival rates of 60% to 90%. In adult patients, results are more variable. Overall, prompt treatment is associated with long-term survival rates of 70% to 80%.