Burkitt lymphoma

Alternative names
B-cell lymphoma; High-grade B-cell lymphoma; Small non-cleaved cell lymphoma

Burkitt lymphoma is a lymph gland tumor classified as a non-Hodgkin’s type of lymphoma.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

This type of tumor was first discovered in Africa, but it has now been found in the U.S. as well.

African Burkitt lymphoma is closely associated with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), the primary cause of infectious mononucleosis. The American form of Burkitt lymphoma is less closely associated with EBV. Both types of tumor are caused by defective immune cells called B lymphocytes.

Burkitt lymphoma may first be noticed as a swelling of the lymph nodes (glands) in the neck or below the jaw. These swollen lymph nodes are often painless and can grow very rapidly. The disease can also begin in other locations.

The cause of Burkitt lymphoma is not known, but in the African type of Burkitt lymphoma there is a strong association with early childhood infection by the Epstein-Barr virus.


  • Unexplained swollen lymph nodes in the neck or below jaw  
  • Non-tender nodes  
  • Rapid growth of the lymph nodes  
  • Nodes that grow together to form a mat

Signs and tests

  • Lymph node biopsy  
  • Bone scan  
  • Chest x-ray  
  • Bone marrow biopsy  
  • Pleural fluid analysis  
  • Peritoneal fluid analysis  
  • CT scan of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis  
  • Cerebral spinal fluid analysis  
  • PET or gallium scan

Treatment of this cancer requires use of anti-cancer medicines (chemotherapy). Many medicines effectively treat Burkitt lymphoma, but most treatment plans include combinations of prednisone, cyclophosphamide, vincristine, cytarabine, doxorubicin, methotrexate, and related chemotherapy medicines.

Support Groups
The stress of illness can often be helped by joining a support group where members share common experiences and problems.

Expectations (prognosis)

Burkitt lymphoma is usually curable if treated aggressively with chemotherapy. If the cancer involves only a small area of lymph nodes, the cure rate is over 90%. If it has spread to the bone marrow or spinal fluid, the cure rate drops to about 75%.


  • Complications of treatment (radiation therapy or chemotherapy)  
  • Spread of the cancer

Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if you note any of the symptoms listed here, or if you have questions about Burkitt lymphoma.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by David A. Scott, M.D.

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