The purpose of this paper was to define the histologic distribution, clinical features, and treatment response of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in northeastern Brazil. We reviewed medical records and histopathologic studies of 98 children treated for NHL from 1980 to 1987 at a major pediatric cancer center in Recife, Brazil. Treatment outcome was evaluated in relation to tumor burden (stage and serum LDH) and type of therapy (LSA2L2 vs other multiagent chemotherapy). There was a striking predominance of the small noncleaved cell (Burkitt) subtype, which occurred in 92 of the 98 children and adolescents diagnosed with NHL. Subsequent analyses focused on these patients. The majority (n = 84) had advanced (stage III/IV) disease at diagnosis. The abdomen was the most common site of disease (84 cases); jaw involvement was rare (three cases). Five-year event-free survival (excluding treatment refusals) was significantly better for patients with limited vs advanced stage disease (75 +/- 14% vs 42 +/- 6%; P < 0.04). Elevated serum LDH (>500 U/l) was associated with a poorer outcome (P = 0.008). The type of chemotherapy did not affect EFS (P = 0.95). Only 39% of patients are long-term survivors, reflecting the high rate of septic deaths (25% of patients) and parental refusal/abandonment of therapy (10%). Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) was detected in tumor cells from eight of the 11 cases studied. In clinical presentation, these cases resemble sporadic Burkitt lymphoma, yet in their apparent responsiveness to LSA2L2 therapy and association with EBV, they do not. Childhood NHL in northeastern Brazil is predominantly of the Burkitt subtype, and is associated with clinical features that appear to distinguish it from the endemic and sporadic forms of this tumor. These cases may represent a third or intermediate subtype of Burkitt lymphoma.