Background: Endemic Burkitt lymphoma (eBL) is the most common childhood cancer in equatorial Africa and there is a need for affordable, effective treatment.
Aim: To record the morbidity of treatment and event-free survival after 1 year using relatively high doses of cyclophosphamide at short intervals combined with intrathecal methotrexate.
Methods: Forty consecutive patients with a mean age of 6.9 (range 2-15) years were treated at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Blantyre between 10th April and 17th November 2006. The initial diagnosis was made clinically and confirmed by fine-needle aspiration in 73%. Abdominal ultrasound, bone marrow aspirate and CSF analysis were undertaken routinely. Chemotherapy consisted of cyclophosphamide, 40 mg/kg on day 1 and 60 mg/kg on days 8, 18 and 28. Intrathecal methotrexate 12.5 mg and hydrocortisone 12.5 mg were administered on days 1, 8, 18 and 28. Allopurinol was commenced before chemotherapy, and a high urinary output was maintained to prevent tumour lysis.
Results: St Jude stage distribution was stage I, 1; II, 9; III, 24; and IV, 6. An equal number (70%) presented with abdominal and facial disease, and 15% with paraplegia. Twenty patients (50%) were below the 5th NCHS centile for weight-for-age. Two patients died during treatment, three had chemotherapy-resistant disease and 35 (88%) achieved complete clinical remission by day 28. Sixteen required antibiotic treatment for presumed infection and nine received a blood transfusion. Relapse occurred in 16 patients after 65-311 days (median 137). Nineteen patients (48%) have been in continued remission for 265-670 days (median 454).
Conclusion: This short, inexpensive treatment schedule (<50 US$) cured almost 50% of eBL patients in a setting of very limited resources.