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Burkitt’s Lymphoma / Cancer of the Lymphatic System

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Burkitt’s lymphoma is a rapidly growing, rare type of non-hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) that commonly affects children.

The lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system, is responsible for fighting diseases and infections. It is comprised of the lymphocytes (a subset of white blood cells) lymph vessels, lymph fluid, lymph nodes, spleen, thymus and the bone marrow.
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Burkitt’s Lymphoma

Burkitt’s lymphoma is a highly aggressive type of B-cell lymphoma that mostly begins in body parts other than lymph nodes. The disease usually starts in the abdomen and later on spreads to other parts such as the brain. Although it rapidly progresses, Burkitt’s lymphoma is mostly curable with intense therapies that have been made available lately.

The different types of NHL are categorized base on the size and shape of the lymphoma cells and the manner in which they grow within the lymph nodes and beyond.

The cells in the burkitt’s lymphoma have no folds or indentations, which means they are “non cleaved” when observed under a microscope. There is another type of NHL known as non-burkitt’s lymphoma, characterized by non cleaved lymphoma cells, which mostly occurs in adults.

Genetics is found to play a major role in causing the disease. Chromosomal rearrangement between the chromosomes 8 and 14 is believed to play a major role in many individuals. Exposure to viruses is another factor that has a role in causing the disease.

Burkitt’s lymphoma is also known to occur as a secondary cancer, as a result of treatment for other cancers. Also some medical conditions such as ataxia telangiectasia, X-linked lymphoproliferative diseases and Wiskott - Aldrich syndrome are known to predispose individuals to Burkitt’s lymphoma.

Burkitt’s lymphoma can be broadly divided into the sporadic and the endemic types.

a) Endemic Burkitt’s lymphoma - In equatorial Africa, Burkitt’s lymphoma constitute about half of all childhood cancers; in 95% of the cases Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) is involved. In this type of lymphoma the jaw bone is also involved, a feature which is rare in the sporadic type.

b) Sporadic Burkitt’s lymphoma - The type of Burkitt’s lymphoma is found in other parts of the world and mainly affects children. Although EBV has been reported to be involved, the link between the virus and this type of NHL is not that strong. In this type the abdomen and the bone marrow involvement are more prominent than in the sporadic type, while jaw involvement is extremely rare.

Burkitt lymphoma was first found to occur in children in Central Africa although it also affects children from other parts of the world. Those with HIV are at a greater risk of getting affected; besides it is known to mostly affect males.
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