Burkitt lymphoma is a form of cancer that primarily affects children living in
certain areas of Africa. Burkitt lymphoma is also found in North America, but it is rare.
Adults can also be affected.
What is going on in the body?
Burkitt lymphoma occurs when a specialized white blood cell called the
B-lymphocyte undergoes cancerous changes. The cells begin to grow and multiply out
of control. The cancerous cells form tumors. Burkitt lymphoma is aggressive. This means that once it
develops, it can grow quickly.
There are two types of Burkitt lymphoma: the African form and the North
American form. In the African form, tumors form under the jaw and in the abdomen. It is
associated with an infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. This is a common virus, and
most people recover from it. However, in African children, Epstein-Barr virus causes
cells to turn cancerous. No one is sure why. One theory is that children who have had
malaria, which is common in Africa, have weakened immune systems. This may make their bodies more likely to
respond this way to an Epstein-Barr virus infection.
The North American form of Burkitt lymphoma affects the bone marrow.
Epstein-Barr virus is not a factor in this form of the disease. In North America,
Epstein-Barr infections are associated with mononucleosis.
What are the causes and risks of the disease?
The exact cause of Burkitt lymphoma is unknown. Burkitt lymphoma
seems to happen most often in persons who first have had a condition that weakens
their immune systems, such as malaria or
Then, when these people come down with Epstein-Barr virus, Burkitt lymphoma occurs.