The Nov. 5 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine presents a terrifying tale that elevates tapeworms from a mere nuisance to a medical nightmare. A 41-year-old man visited Colombian doctors after suffering from a terrible, ongoing cough and severe weight loss.
After a period of illness, the man died from what was believed to be lung cancer. However, pathologists discovered that his tumors originated from a tapeworm inside his body. The man essentially contracted cancer from another species, a feat which doctors have never observed until now.
In other words, it’s time to head to the pharmacy for a de-worming kit.
The report isn’t as simple as it sounds, although this case is a landmark and marks the first known case that a person has “caught” cancer from another species. The pathologists on this case have never seen anything like it:
“We were amazed when we found this new type of disease — tapeworms growing inside a person, essentially getting cancer, that spreads to the person, causing tumors,” said study researcher Dr. Atis Muehlenbachs, a staff pathologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Infectious Diseases Pathology Branch (IDPB).
A CT scan showed tumors in his lung and lymph nodes, but biopsies of these tumors revealed bizarre cells, leading Colombian doctors to contact the CDC for assistance in diagnosing the man. The cells, when examined under a microscope, acted like cancer cells — they multiplied quickly and crowded together. But the cells didn’t appear to be human, they were 10 times smaller than human cancer cells.