Tapeworm in Immune-Compromised Columbian Man Developed Cancer-Like Cells That Spread to Infected Man and Killed Him, CDC Study Finds; First-Ever Such Case Is Described in New England Journal of Medicine

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have discovered cancer cells originating in a common tapeworm may take root in people with weakened immune systems, causing cancer-like tumors. It is the first known case of a person becoming ill from cancer cells that arose in a parasite – in this case, Hymenolepis nana, the so-called “dwarf tapeworm” that is the most common tapeworm found in humans. The report, published in an open-access article in the November 5, 2015 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, raises concern that other similar cases, if they occur, may be misdiagnosed as human cancer – especially in less developed countries where this tapeworm and immune-system-suppressing illnesses like HIV are widespread. The article is titled “Malignant Tranformation of Hymenolepis nana in a Human Host.” (Please see links to the open-access NEJM article and to numerous popular press articles at end of this summary).“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 Atis Muehlenbachs, M.D., Ph.D., Staff Pathologist in the CDC’s Infectious Diseases Pathology Branch (IDPB) and lead author of the study. “We think this type of event is rare. However, this tapeworm is found worldwide and millions of people globally suffer from conditions like HIV that weaken their immune system. So there may be more cases that are unrecognized. It’s definitely an area that deserves more study.” In 2013, doctors in Colombia asked the CDC to help diagnose bizarre biopsies from lung tumors and lymph nodes of a 41-year-old man who was HIV-positive. The tumors looked similar to a human cancer, but initial CDC lab studies revealed the cancer-like cells were not human.
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