What is the role of biopsy in the diagnostic workup for Burkitt lymphoma/Burkitt-like lymphoma (BL/BLL)?

Updated: Dec 20, 2019
  • Author: Ali H Kanbar, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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The diagnosis of Burkitt lymphoma (BL) or Burkitt-like lymphoma (BLL) is made by obtaining a biopsy of the tumor mass for histopathology, immunochemistry, and flow cytometry (see the following image). Cytogenetic studies to identify c-myc mutation will aid in the diagnosis. The most suggestive lymph nodes should be selected for excisional biopsy. Frozen sections and needle biopsies are discouraged. Aspiration of bone marrow or effusions may provide the diagnosis and avoid lymph node biopsy.

A unilateral bone marrow aspirate and biopsy should be performed for every patient with Burkitt lymphoma (BL), because the frequent presence of unexpected bone marrow involvement has important implications for treatment planning. If lymphoma cells are present in the aspirate, flow cytometry/immunophenotyping should be ordered to further characterize the disease. Bone marrow is involved in 20% of sporadic cases and 8% of endemic cases of Burkitt lymphoma (eBL).

Lumbar puncture (LP) is considered part of the staging workup to evaluate for cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) involvement. This test should be deferred in the presence of significant thrombocytopenia or coagulation defects. The CSF should be sent for cytology and flow cytometry evaluation in addition to the usual studies. Intrathecal chemotherapy is usually given at the time of the initial lumbar puncture.

Paracentesis or thoracentesis may be needed for cytogenetic studies if ascites or pleural effusion is present.

Years ago, laparotomy was indicated for the initial diagnosis and for resection of the disease; this procedure is not recommended by current guidelines.

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