Symptoms of Burkitt Lymphoma

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Burkitt lymphoma is type of blood cancer that is a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Although rare, it is one of the most common cancers affecting children.

The symptoms depend on the form of Burkitt lymphoma a person has. The most common form of the disease is the endemic, or African, form. It’s found mainly in central Africa and typically occurs in children who contract the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a type of herpes virus that is one of the most common viruses in the world.

Sporadic Burkitt lymphoma is the most common type in the United States and Europe. It is not linked to EBV. Immunodeficiency-related Burkitt lymphoma is seen in people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS, as well as people with inherited immunodeficiencies or who take immunosuppressive drugs after an organ transplant.

Because Burkitt lymphoma is aggressive, symptoms often quickly emerge. This article will discuss the frequent symptoms, rare symptoms, and complications of Burkitt lymphoma.

Checking a child's lymph nodes

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Frequent Symptoms

While symptoms depend on the form of Burkitt lymphoma in question and the parts of the body affected, the disease can affect the:

  • Face and jaw
  • Bowel
  • Kidneys
  • Ovaries
  • Testes
  • Liver 
  • Central nervous system

Potential first signs of Burkitt lymphoma include:

One of the most notable symptoms of endemic Burkitt lymphoma is facial swelling and distortion of the bones in the face or jaw.

Sporadic Burkitt Lymphoma

In people with sporadic Burkitt lymphoma, symptoms typically start in the abdomen. The sporadic form of this disease affects young adults and children more so than older adults. According to the Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center (GARD), only 5%–29% of people with Burkitt lymphoma experience abdominal pain.

People with sporadic Burkitt lymphoma may also develop bloating or swelling because of fluid buildup in the abdomen. Other abdominal symptoms may include:

  • Blood in the stool because of gastrointestinal bleeding 
  • Constipation due to bowel obstruction  
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Appetite problems 
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Rare Symptoms

In rare cases, people with Burkitt lymphoma may develop a condition called tumor lysis syndrome. This serious condition occurs when tumor cells dump their contents into the bloodstream. 

Symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cloudy urine
  • Shortness of breath
  • Drowsiness 
  • Joint discomfort or pain

What Causes Tumor Lysis Syndrome?

Tumor lysis syndrome occurs most often in people with blood cancers or disorders who are receiving chemotherapy, cancer treatment in which medicine is used to kill cancer cells.

The condition is most likely to occur at the start of chemotherapy treatment, when many tumor cells are being destroyed. Other treatments that may cause tumor lysis syndrome include:

  • Corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory medicine that is a man-made version of hormones)
  • Radiation therapy (uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors)
  • Hormone therapy (treatment to slow or stop cancers that use hormones to grow)
  • Biological therapy (activates or suppresses the body's immune system to kill cancer cells)

People with untreated Burkitt lymphoma may also experience central nervous system symptoms when the cancer is in the advanced stages.

Complications

Without treatment, Burkitt lymphoma is fatal. Rapid treatment is required since this cancer is particularly fast growing. 

Treatment usually involves aggressive chemotherapy, which has its own set of potential complications and side effects, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Anemia (lack of healthy red blood cells)
  • Weakened immune system
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Appetite and weight changes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Hair loss
  • Nerve problems, such as numbness
  • Changes of the nails and skin
  • Urinary changes
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Changes in mood
  • Libido changes
  • Problems with fertility

Furthermore, if a person develops tumor lysis syndrome, they may experience complications such as:

  • Kidney damage
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Seizures
  • Irregular heartbeat

In some cases, tumor lysis syndrome may be fatal. 

When to See a Doctor

Because Burkitt lymphoma is such an aggressive cancer, it’s essential to see a doctor right away if you notice symptoms. Unlike other cancers that grow and spread slowly, Burkitt lymphoma quickly becomes deadly. 

Some symptoms, such as fatigue or abdominal pain, can be signs of other conditions. However, if symptoms rapidly get worse, it may be a good idea to talk to a doctor. Swollen lymph nodes that continue to swell and grow in size are also cause for concern.

Summary

Burkitt lymphoma is a rare form of blood cancer that can develop symptoms quickly. Rapidly swelling lymph nodes in the head and neck may be noted. In the type common in the United States, a large tumor may be seen in the abdomen. Complications can include tumor lysis syndrome.

A Word From Verywell

Hearing that you or your child has cancer can be devastating. However, while Burkitt lymphoma is an aggressive cancer, it’s also treatable. In many cases, treatment for Burkitt lymphoma is successful and leads to complete remission. 

Since Burkitt lymphoma grows and spreads rapidly, the key to successful treatment is spotting the cancer early. Many of the symptoms of Burkitt lymphoma are similar to other benign (noncancerous) conditions. Having fatigue and a fever, for example, may simply be a sign of an infection.

See a doctor if you develop swollen lymph nodes that don’t seem to go back to normal after a few days. Unexplained weight loss is another sign that you should discuss with your doctor. 

These symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have this rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. But if you’re experiencing out-of-the-norm symptoms, don’t hesitate to bring them up to your doctor.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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