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Lymphoma and the Epstein Barr Virus: Diseases of the Herpesviridae Virus Family

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  • 0:03 The Epstein-Barr Virus
  • 0:51 Lymphomas
  • 2:49 Cancers Associated…
  • 4:24 More Diseases of the…
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Find out how the Epstein-Barr virus is involved in all sorts of cancers, such as Burkitt's, Hodgkin's, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, as well as nasopharyngeal carcinoma. You'll also learn about the human cytomegalovirus.

The Epstein-Barr Virus

One of the members of the Herpesviridae family, a family of viruses well known for causing trouble, is called the Epstein-Barr virus. This virus is the same one that causes a famous kissing disease called mono, or more technically, infectious mononucleosis. However, the Epstein-Barr virus, or EBV for short, is also known to sometimes cause or be associated with several different terrible cancers. It basically does this by inserting its genome into the host cell's genome, thereby causing the cell to grow and multiply uncontrollably, which is typical of cancer. We will identify some of these EBV-associated cancers in this lesson.

Lymphomas

EBV has been associated with several cancers belonging to a general group of cancer known as B-cell lymphomas. These cancers are a type of blood cancer that affects white blood cells known as B cells. The B cells, also called B lymphocytes, are really important for the proper function of your immune system. They are found in the organs of your lymphoid system, which is involved in your immune system, or the defense of your body against foreign entities like viruses, bacteria and so on.

The B cells are your body's antibody factories, the little proteins involved in fighting off an infection. You can imagine one B cell as the queen bee that produces lots of little antibodies, the worker bees. These worker bees fly out of the lymph nodes to attack and kill any intruder, like bacteria, or to tag it for destruction by other white blood cells.

However, if something, such as a virus, toxin or a genetic issue causes these B cells to grow like crazy without control, then these B cells are by definition cancerous or malignant. They begin to metastasize, that is, to spread around the body. This uncontrolled cell growth and the spread of these cells will cause certain organs to fail. For example, in the lungs, infiltration by a lymphoma will cause your lungs to stop working properly. In addition, because the organs involved in your immune system will be destroyed by the lymphoma, you may easily die by being infected with even the simplest of viruses that a healthy person would easily fight off.

So, in the case of a lymphoma, the bees are no longer fighting on your side. They become killer bees that turn their back on you and sting you to death instead.

Cancers Associated with the Epstein-Barr Virus

Lymphomas are sometimes called either Hodgkin lymphoma or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which are both a type of blood cancer that originates from lymphocytes. Both the Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas involve the B cells I mentioned before. Both have been associated with EBV and both are best distinguished by a professional looking at the cancerous tissue and cells under the microscope.

Keep in mind that there are many different types of Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas, like there are many different species of bees, and being able to distinguish between all of them is very important in establishing a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for a patient, as not every type of Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma will be as damaging or aggressive as another - just like some types of bees are more aggressive than others.

Regardless, one type of non-Hodgkin B-cell lymphoma is called Burkitt's lymphoma. This is a very fast-growing form of B-cell lymphoma that is sometimes associated with the Epstein-Barr virus. Specifically, the African form of Burkitt's lymphoma has been linked to EBV. It causes some really terrible things, like massive swelling of the jaw.

Unfortunately, EBV does not stop there. It has also been implicated in causing nasopharyngeal carcinoma, the most common cancer of the nasopharynx, which is the upper part of your throat.

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