Five decades of low intensity and low survival: adapting intensified regimens to cure pediatric Burkitt lymphoma in Africa


Blood Adv. 2020 Aug 25;4(16):4007-4019. doi: 10.1182/bloodadvances.2020002178.


Long-term cure of childhood Burkitt lymphoma (BL) in sub-Saharan Africa after treatment with single-agent cyclophosphamide has been documented for more than half of a century. Contemporary cure rates for the highest-risk patients with BL in high-income countries exceed 90% using intensive multiagent chemotherapy. By contrast, the majority of African children with BL still die. Data spanning 5 decades in Africa have repeatedly shown that the children most likely to achieve cure with limited

cyclophosphamide regimens are those with lower-stage disease isolated to the jaw. Attempts to intensify the cyclophosphamide monotherapy backbone with the addition of vincristine, low-dose methotrexate, prednisone, doxorubicin, and/or low-dose cytarabine have not yielded significant improvement. High-dose methotrexate is a critical component in the treatment of childhood BL worldwide. Although initial efforts in Africa to incorporate high-dose methotrexate resulted in high treatment-related mortality, more recent collaborative experiences from North and West Africa, as well as Central America, demonstrate that it can be administered safely and effectively, despite limitations in supportive care resources. Recognizing the unacceptable disparity in curative outcomes for BL between the United States/Europe and equatorial Africa, there is a critical need to safely adapt contemporary treatment regimens to optimize curative outcomes amid the resource limitations in regions where BL is endemic. Here, we critically review reports of BL treatment outcomes from low- and middle-income countries, in addition to data from high-income countries that predated modern intensified regimens, to identify potential strategies to improve the therapeutic approach for children suffering from BL in sub-Saharan Africa.