Burkitt lymphoma in Uganda, the legacy of Denis Burkitt and an update on the disease status

Br J Haematol. 2012 Mar;156(6):757-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2141.2012.09027.x. Epub 2012 Feb 8.


Burkitt lymphoma (BL) was first described in Uganda in 1958 as a sarcoma of the jaw but later confirmed to be a distinct form of Non Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). This discovery was the defining moment of cancer research in Uganda, which eventually led to the establishment of a dedicated cancer research institute, the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) in 1967. The centre was dedicated to Denis Burkitt in recognition of his contribution to cancer research in East Africa. BL is still the commonest NHL in childhood in Uganda. Its incidence has significantly increased recently due to yet unknown factors. Although the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was considered a possible reason for the increase, there is no evidence that it has substantially impacted on the epidemiology of the disease. However, for those patients with BL who are co infected with HIV there is a clear impact of the disease on clinical presentation and outcome. HIV-infected patients commonly present with extra facial sites and tend to have poor overall survival (median survival of 11·79 months). In summary, BL, as a disease entity in Uganda, has maintained the same clinical characteristics since its discovery, despite the emergence of HIV during the intervening period.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Burkitt Lymphoma / epidemiology*
  • Burkitt Lymphoma / history
  • Burkitt Lymphoma / pathology
  • HIV Seropositivity
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Research
  • Uganda / epidemiology