Burkitt's lymphoma advance

9 Sep 2008

New method for identification of Burkitt’s lymphoma developed

Scientists have discovered a better way to identify and treat a commonly misdiagnosed cancer affecting young adults and teenagers, a study published in Blood revealed Monday.

A screen for a genetic marker for Burkitt’s lymphoma (a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) will now enable all cases to be correctly identified.

The researchers have shown that using this screen can detect which patients need the most intensive chemotherapy, and spare those who can be treated with lower doses. Together these findings will ensure that lymphoma patients have the best possible chance of cure, but are not exposed to high intensity chemotherapy unnecessarily.

The study, to date the world’s largest trial for Burkitt’s lymphoma, was run by the Medical Research Council Trials Unit. Its results may well change clinical practice for patients with this cancer worldwide.

Burkitt’s lymphoma affects around 200 people in the UK each year and is most commonly diagnosed in teenagers and young adults. Around a third of these cases are in children.

Lead author Dr Ben Mead, honorary senior lecturer in medical oncology in the University of Southampton’s School of Medicine, said: “Patients with Burkitt’s lymphoma are now likely to be successfully treated, but this has not always been the case.”

“Being able to correctly diagnose this form of cancer is the key to successful treatment. The screen we have developed and the new treatment methods will significantly improve the care of patients with the disease. Crucially, the new treatment regime will also reduce the side effects of chemotherapy, which traditionally have been particularly severe for this group of patients.”

Professor Peter Johnson, also based at the University of Southampton, said: “We are delighted with the results of this important international trial. This study sets the standard for the way we diagnose and treat Burkitt’s lymphoma.  We have known for some time that intensive chemotherapy can cure a high proportion of patients, but we now have a really good way to tell those that need this, and those whose chances of cure will be just as good with less toxic treatment.”