A Colombian man contracted cancer from a tapeworm living inside him, the first known report of a human getting a terminal disease from a parasite, according to a new study.
The man, who also was infected with HIV, had sought medical treatment in 2013 because he wasn’t feeling well. Doctors discovered lung tumors, but were stumped when testing showed the lumps weren’t human cells, but rather cells that had grown in his parasite, according to a study released Thursday by the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers were “amazed” by the discovery, said Dr. Atis Muehlenbachs, a pathologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Doctors in Colombia had sent samples to the CDC after being flummoxed by tapeworm DNA in the man’s tumors.
The man’s immune system was already weakened by HIV, which study participants say may have allowed the tapeworm to grow unchecked. Later, the tapeworm cells may have mutated into cancerous cells that attack the host’s body.
The 41-year-old man died just 72 hours after experts determined that his cancer was started by a common human tapeworm, the study said.
The study’s research team said it was not clear what kind of treatment should be used to battle cancerous tapeworm cells. Perhaps, the team proposed, regular human cancer regimens could also battle mutated parasite cells.