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What is Burkitt lymphoma (BL)?
Symptoms of Burkitt lymphoma (BL)
Causes of Burkitt lymphoma (BL)
Diagnosis of Burkitt lymphoma (BL)
The stages and grades of Burkitt lymphoma (BL)
Treatment for Burkitt lymphoma (BL)
After Burkitt lymphoma (BL) treatment
Support for people with Burkitt lymphoma (BL)
Access our lymphoma information in other formats
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Burkitt lymphoma (BL) is a rare type of fast-growing non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). It develops when B-cells (also called B-lymphocytes) become abnormal. B-cells are white blood cells that fight infection. There are different types of BL. The most common type in the UK is often called sporadic BL.
This information is about Burkitt lymphoma in adults. BL can also affect children. If you need more information about lymphoma in children, you can contact the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group.
For healthcare professionals
If you are a healthcare professional, use our guide to find the right information and support for your patients affected by lymphoma. This explains the support available from Macmillan and from other trusted organisations.
BL commonly develops in the tummy area (abdomen). This can cause symptoms such as:
- tummy pain
- swelling of your tummy caused by a build-up of fluid (ascites)
- feeling sick (nausea)
BL may also cause painless swellings in the neck, armpit or groin. These are caused by lymphoma cells building up in the lymph nodes, which makes them bigger. Often lymph nodes in more than one part of the body are affected.
The symptoms of BL can often develop very quickly.
Some people also have symptoms that doctors call B symptoms. These can include:
- drenching night sweats which require a change of nightwear and bed covers
- high temperatures (fevers) with no obvious cause
- unexplained weight loss.
Knowing if you have any B symptoms will help your doctor to stage the lymphoma and plan your treatment.
Sometimes lymphoma cells may build up in the bone marrow, where blood cells are made. This can cause:
- anaemia – this is caused by the low number of red blood cells in your blood
- bruising or bleeding easily – this is caused by the low number of blood-clotting cells (platelets) in your blood.
General symptoms of BL may include loss of appetite and tiredness.
The causes of sporadic BL are mostly unknown. It is sometimes linked to the virus that causes glandular fever. This is called the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). But it is important to remember that EBV is very common. Most people with EBV will not develop lymphoma.
Your risk of developing immunodeficiency-associated BL may be higher if your immune system is weak. Your immune system can be weakened by:
- conditions such as HIV
- drugs called immunosuppressants – these are used after an organ transplant, or to treat autoimmune disease.
Like other cancers, BL is not infectious. It cannot be passed on to other people.
The most common test for diagnosing lymphoma is a biopsy. A doctor will take a sample of tissue from the affected area. The most common place to take a biopsy from is an enlarged lymph node. This is called a lymph node biopsy. You may have all or a part of the lymph node removed. The tissue will be sent to a laboratory for testing. You may also have biopsies taken from other areas of your body.
You can find out more about further tests you may have in our information about non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Waiting for test results can be difficult. You may find it helpful to talk to your family, friends or specialist nurse.
Booklets and resources
Your test results will help your doctors find out how many areas of your body are affected by lymphoma and where these areas are. This is called staging.
Lymphomas are also grouped as either low-grade or high-grade. Low-grade lymphomas are usually slow growing. High-grade lymphomas usually grow more quickly. Burkitt lymphoma (BL) is a high-grade lymphoma.
Knowing the stage and grade of the lymphoma helps your doctor plan the right treatment for you.
We have more information about the stages and grades of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
A team of specialists will meet to discuss the best possible treatment for you. They are called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).
Your doctor, cancer specialist or nurse will explain the different treatments and their side effects to you. They will also talk to you about things to consider when making treatment decisions.
Treatment for Burkitt lymphoma (BL) depends on the stage of the lymphoma and if you have symptoms that are causing problems.
These are the most common treatments for BL.
Immunotherapy and chemotherapy
BL is often treated with a combination of the immunotherapy drug rituximab and chemotherapy. Treatment is often very intensive and may take a few months. You may have to stay in hospital for much of this time.
Different combinations of chemotherapy may be used with rituximab, such as:
You may have some treatments as part of a clinical trial.
The drugs used to treat BL may cause the lymphoma cells to break down very quickly. This can cause chemical imbalances in the blood that affect the kidneys and the heart. This is called tumour lysis syndrome (TLS). Your doctor and nurse will monitor you closely for signs of TLS and give you drugs to help prevent it. You usually have a drug called rasburicase as a drip (infusion) and extra fluids as a drip to help protect your kidneys. You may only need rasburicase with the first treatment for BL. After that, you can have tablets called allopurinol instead.
The drugs used may cause the lymphoma cells to break down very quickly. This can cause chemical imbalances in the blood that affect the kidneys and the heart. This is called tumour lysis syndrome (TLS).
After treatment, some people are cured of BL. But for others, the lymphoma may come back after treatment. We have more information about treating lymphoma that has come back.
People often have many different feelings when they finish lymphoma treatment. You may feel relieved that treatment has finished, but worried about what will happen in the future.
You will have appointments with your lymphoma doctor or nurse less often than before. But at the same time, you may have new challenges to cope with and things to think about.
We have information below about some of the things people ask about after lymphoma treatment. But you may have other questions or need information about something else. If there is something you want to talk about at any point after treatment, you can:
Side effects of lymphoma treatment
You may have some ongoing side effects as you recover from lymphoma treatment. You can use our impacts of cancer A-Z to search for information about managing different symptoms and side effects. Or find out more about side effects of treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma or treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Tiredness and fatigue
Sometimes side effects may continue or develop months or years after treatment. These are called late effects. We have more information about long-term and late effects of treatment for lymphoma.
Well-being and recovery
It can take time to recover after lymphoma treatment. Some days you may feel better than others.
It is important to know where to get support or information if you need it. People often need support even some time after lymphoma treatment. But sometimes it is difficult to know who to ask for help. To find support:
- ask your GP or someone from your cancer team for advice about support in your area
- search cancercaremap.org to find cancer support services near you
- call us free on 0808 808 0000 or talk to us online - our cancer information and support specialists can offer guidance and help you find what you need.
Our course Help to Overcome Problems Effectively (HOPE) helps people during and after cancer treatment. It is a free, interactive, group based, self management support course. It runs for 6 weeks, with each weekly session lasting 2.5 hours. To find out more about HOPE courses in your area, email ServiceOpsSupport@macmillan.org.uk
A healthy lifestyle can help speed up your recovery. Even small lifestyle changes may improve your well-being and long-term health.
Booklets and resources
Talk to someone about Burkitt lymphoma (BL)
Everyone has their own way of dealing with illness and the different emotions they experience. You may find it helpful to talk things over with family and friends or your doctor or nurse.
Macmillan is also here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can:
More information and advice
We know cancer can affect you physically, emotionally and financially. We have information and advice about different ways cancer might impact you, such as help with:
Booklets and resources
Other organisations who offer information and support
The organisations below also offer information and support:
Blood Cancer UK
Supporting someone with lymphoma
When someone you know is diagnosed with lymphoma, it can be difficult to know how to support them. You may want information to help you understand what they are going through. Or you may be worried about what to say.
We have information to help with the practical, emotional and financial impacts of supporting someone. You can also talk to us by:
Booklets and resources
We are working to make our website as accessible as possible. We want everyone to be able to use it to find the information they need. We have tips about using settings on your computer or device to help you use our website in our accessibility statement.
We also provide information in a range of languages and formats. If you cannot find the information you are looking for in the format or language you need, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Find our non-Hodgkin lymphoma booklet ebook and pdf
If you prefer a pdf, ePub or Mobi version, our Understanding non-Hodgkin lymphoma booklet is available in these formats.
Booklets and resources
Find non-Hodgkin lymphoma information in your language
We have a range of translated cancer information. This includes information about different cancer types, being diagnosed, cancer treatment, and side effects. We have some lymphoma information in the following languages. You can also search our most up to date list of web pages we have translated on request.
- Bulgarian - Mantle cell lymphoma / Мантелноклетъчен лимфом [PDF]
- German - Follicular lymphoma / Follikuläres Lymphom (FL) [PDF]
- Polish - Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) / Chłoniak rozlany z dużych komórek B [PDF]
- Polish - Lymphoma / Chłoniak [PDF]
- Slovak - Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) / Anaplastický veľkobunkový lymfóm [PDF]
- Slovak - Follicular lymphoma / Folikulový lymfóm [PDF]
- Tamil - Follicular lymphoma [PDF]
If you would like any of our lymphoma information translated into your language, please email email@example.com
Watch British sign language videos
You can watch our BSL videos about cancer on YouTube.
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Looking for large print, Braille or another format?
Below is a sample of the sources used in our Burkitt lymphoma (BL) information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Blood and bone marrow cancers. NICE Pathways. Last accessed 3 December 2020.
Auer. R, Cook. L et al. Pan-London Haemato-Oncology Clinical Guidelines. Lymphoid Malignancies. Part 5: Less common lymphoid malignancies. January 2020. Available here: Pan-London-Less-Common-Guidelines-Jan-2020.pdf (rmpartners.nhs.uk).
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Anne Parker, Consultant Haematologist.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.