Unique case raises questions about misdiagnosis and treatment
Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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 dwarf tapeworm.
The report, in the Nov. 5 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.
“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 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.”