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Blog > An unusual case where non-human cancerous cells were discovered

The tumours found inside the patient were found to contain tapeworm DNA

Man Dies Due To Tapeworm Cancer

An unusual case was recently diagnosed after a man died when parasitic worm tumors were found growing in his organs.

Diagnosis came through collaboration between the US Centres for Disease Control and the UK's Natural History Museum.

The 41 year old Colombian patient had HIV, meaning his weakened immune system allowed the cancerous cells to grow inside him.

Doctors first attempted to diagnose the man in 2013 when seemingly normal tumors, some larger than 4cm across, were found in his lungs, liver and throughout his body. However, on close inspection, the cells were found not be unhuman as they were just one tenth of the size of a human cell.

Dr Atis Muehlenbachs picked up the case at the US Centres of Disease Control and ran through several theories including the discovery of a new infection and shrinking cancer cells. However, after several tests, high levels of tapeworm DNA was found within the tumours.

The worm in questions came from a Dwarf Tapeworm, a species of worm where 90% of its body is used for reproduction, spewing thousands of eggs into the guts of its host every day. It is believed that rather than the worm itself getting cancer, one of the eggs penetrated the intestine linings and mutated, eventually becoming cancerous.

Up to 75 million people are thought to carry the tape worm infection at any one time. While doctors believe that worm-cancer is extremely rare, it is believed that many cases could be going undiagnosed.

The US Centres for Disease Control said the best way to prevent the infection is to regularly wash hands and cook raw vegetables.

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