The man who “caught” cancer from a tapeworm!
An HIV-positive Colombian man has died of cancer that began inside his tapeworm. His tumors were not made up of his own cells, but those of the parasitic worm that invaded his gut. This rare and unique situation is thought to be the first known to medicine whereby tumors have developed as a result of parasite-derived cancerous cells having spread and taken hold throughout a human host.

The patient had HIV and his weakened immune system allowed the worm-cancer to flourish. The unusual case was diagnosed through a collaboration between the US Centers for Disease Control and the UK's Natural History Museum. The doctors who detailed the case in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) labelled the case as "crazy" and unusual.

Colombian doctors had tried to diagnose the 41-year-old man in 2013. He had what appeared to be normal tumours, some more than 4 cm across, in his lungs, liver and elsewhere in his body. But on closer inspection the cancerous cells were clearly not human - they were tiny at just a tenth of the size of a human cell. "It didn't really make sense," said Dr Atis Muehlenbachs, who picked up the "crazy" case at the US Centers of Disease Control. Eventually, molecular testing identified high levels of tapeworm DNA in the tumours.

The worm tissue in question came from dwarf tapeworm - Hymenolepis nana. Around 90% of the worm's body is given over to reproduction as it spews out thousands of eggs into the gut every day.

Rather than the worm getting cancer, it is thought one of these eggs penetrated the lining of the intestines, mutated and ultimately became cancerous.

Up to 75 million people have an H. nana infection at any one time. Doctors believe that worm-cancer is rare, but know many cases could be going undiagnosed. The US Centers for Disease Control said hand washing and cooking raw vegetables was the best way to prevent infection.

Read about the case that baffled the medical community at large here:

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