A recent paper in the New England Journal of Medicine reported about the first registered case of cancer infection in humans.
The case was discovered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States. A Colombian man diagnosed with HIV seven years prior visited the CDC. His symptoms were coughing, weight loss, fatigue and fever – all persisting for several months.
Malignant tumors in his neck, liver, lungs and lymph nodes were found. Unfortunately, he died mere 3 days after the visit. However, the physicians continued studying his biopsies and made a stunning observation – the cancer was transmitted to the man from a parasitic dwarf tapeworm.
Pathologist Atis Muehlenbachs said that everyone was baffled by the finding, even more so due to the fact that particular tapeworm infects 75 million people annually, and many of them live with immunodeficiency. This made the case worth very meticulous scrutiny.
We asked Professor Albert Rizvanov for some words of wisdom on the matter. This is what he had to say.
“Cancers often develop in patients with prior immunodeficiency. An immune system always fights not only infections but also abnormal cells that can become cancerous. Researchers use special immunodeficient mice to conduct research in oncology because such mice are susceptible to cancers.
The interesting thing here is that a human tumor transplanted to such a mouse can survive. Such an operation is called xenotransplantation.
Such research is made at KFU where the Pharmaceutics Research and Education Center has its own vivarium with immunocompromised mice. Researchers test tumor medications on them.
The case that you mentioned is a classic example of natural xenotransplantation. The parasite’s cancerous cells survived in the weakened body and started proliferating. This is very interesting both for the theoretical research and for diagnostics because now doctors will pay more attention to patients with parasitic invasions because those parasites may cause cancers in immunocompromised individuals. Of course, we cannot make broad generalizations after this one case, but it unquestionably warrants further research”.