Burkitt lymphoma is a cancer that develops from B lymphocytes (B cells). It is an aggressive (fast-growing) lymphoma, also known as high-grade or acute. The hallmark of Burkitt lymphoma is the translocation (rearrangement) of a gene called MYC. The disease may affect the jaw, central nervous system, bowel, kidneys, ovaries, or other organs. It occurs most often in children and young adults.
Burkitt lymphoma is named after a doctor called Denis Burkitt. He first wrote about a form of this lymphoma after observing it in children and young adults in Africa. The type of Burkitt lymphoma he described is now called ‘African-type’ (or ‘endemic’) Burkitt lymphoma.
There are now two more documented subtypes of Burkitt lymphoma:
- Sporadic Burkitt lymphoma: Occurs throughout the world but is more often seen in the Western world. The most common site of disease occurrence is an abdominal tumour.
- Immunodeficiency-related Burkitt lymphoma: Occurs most commonly in people with HIV/AIDS. It can also occur in patients with inherited immune deficiencies, or those who have had an organ transplant and take immunosuppressive medications to prevent rejection.