A Colombian man developed a cancerous tumor from a tapeworm that grew inside his lungs, scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Natural History Museum in the U.K. have discovered. The findings were published in a report titled “Malignant Transformation ofHymenolepis nana in a Human Host” in the November issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. It describes the case of a human who developed cancerous tumors from dwarf tapeworm cells.
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In January 2013, a 41-year-old man presented himself to a hospital in Medellin, Colombia, with numerous ailments, including fever, fatigue, cough and months’ worth of weight loss. He had been diagnosed with HIV infection seven years earlier, and wasn’t taking his meds properly. In addition, a stool sample revealed that tapeworm infestation had developed in his body. Things got much stranger when, after investigating the man’s abnormal breathing patterns, the doctors found strange-looking tumors in his lungs—biopsied samples of the tumors showed cells that were much smaller than humans cells. So the Colombian doctors referred the case to the CDC’s lab in Atlanta, Georgia. “It looked like cancer, but the tumors were composed of cells that were not human,” Dr. Atis Muehlenbachs, a pathologist at the CDC and the lead author on the report, told NPR. At first, he thought it might have been a slime mold. The CDC, with help from the Natural History Museum in London, spent nearly three years researching the cells. Finally, DNA testing on the tumors confirmed that the tumors were comprised of tapeworm cells. “We were amazed when we found this new type of disease—tapeworms inside a person essentially getting cancer that spreads to the person, causing tumors,” Muehlenbachs said in a statement. He added that while this type of infection is rare, “the potential for this to be a larger, but unrecognized, problem is there. It’s definitely an area that deserves more study.” Unfortunately, the patient died within 72 hours of the discovery. The dwarf tapeworm infects more people than any other tapeworm, with around 75 million people infected at any one time. But in most cases, tapeworm infestations are restricted to the intestine. The researchers …