Burkitt lymphoma (BL) is an aggressive form of B cell lymphoma that can affect children and adults. The study of BL led to the identification of the first recurrent chromosomal aberration in lymphoma, t(8;14)(q24;q32), and subsequent discovery of the central role of MYC and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in tumorigenesis. Most patients with BL are cured with chemotherapy but those with relapsed or refractory disease usually die of lymphoma. Historically, endemic BL, non-endemic sporadic BL and the immunodeficiency-associated BL have been recognized, but differentiation of these epidemiological variants is confounded by the frequency of EBV positivity. Subtyping into EBV+ and EBV- BL might better describe the biological heterogeneity of the disease. Phenotypically resembling germinal centre B cells, all types of BL are characterized by dysregulation of MYC due to enhancer activation via juxtaposition with one of the three immunoglobulin loci. Additional molecular changes commonly affect B cell receptor and sphingosine-1-phosphate signalling, proliferation, survival and SWI-SNF chromatin remodelling. BL is diagnosed on the basis of morphology and high expression of MYC. BL can be effectively treated in children and adolescents with short durations of high dose-intensity multiagent chemotherapy regimens. Adults are more susceptible to toxic effects but are effectively treated with chemotherapy, including modified versions of paediatric regimens. The outcomes in patients with BL are good in high-income countries with low mortality and few late effects, but in low-income and middle-income countries, BL is diagnosed late and is usually treated with less-effective regimens affecting the overall good outcomes in patients with this lymphoma.
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