Strange Cancer Spreads From Tapeworm to Human
In a bizarre case, a Colombian man died from lung tumors made of cancerous cells that had come from a tapeworm inside him. It’s the first known case of a person developing cancer from the cells of a parasite.
Experts at the Centers for Disease Control said they were “amazed” to find a cancer spreading from one organism to another.
The 41-year-old man also had HIV, which weakens the immune system. That likely contributed to the spread of the parasite cancer.
The man went to the hospital after experiencing a cough, fever, and weight loss for months. A CT scan revealed the cancerous tumors in his lymph nodes and lungs. After biopsies revealed the unusual cells, the Colombian doctors sought assistance from the CDC.
Under a microscope, the scientists could see that the cells had multiplied and moved like human cancer cells, but that they were about 10 times smaller.
After several tests, the researchers determined that the DNA in the man’s tumor was from a tapeworm, which was surprising because the cells didn’t look like the usual tissue from a tapeworm.
The researchers speculate that because of the man’s compromised immune system from HIV, the tapeworm was able to keep growing in the body, allowing mutations in the tapeworm’s cells.
The man died just 72 hours after the researchers determined that the tapeworm was responsible for the cancerous tumors.
It is unclear what course of treatment would be needed to treat this type of cancer. Drugs that treat tapeworm infections may not be able to treat cancer cells from tapeworms, the researchers said. But it’s possible that human cancer treatment might also work against parasite cancer cells.
The case was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.