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US Surgeons Find Tapeworm In Woman's Brain During Cancer Surgery

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Tapeworm eggs, which can be from contaminated uncooked food, water, and surfaces, can cause severe infection in people. Recently, doctors found one inside a woman's brain during a surgery.  ( Pixabay )

New York resident Rachel Palma was diagnosed with brain cancer, but on the operating table, doctors discovered that it's not actually cancer that's troubling her.

It turns out, a baby tapeworm lodged in her brain is causing all her bizarre symptoms.

Odd, Troubling Symptoms

Palma, 42, recalled that her strange symptoms started in January 2018, according to an interview with CNN. One of the symptoms that she noted was having involuntary movements, causing her to drop things.

However, the worst were the hallucinations and her tendency to occasionally forget the time and place, even locking herself out of her home and bank account.

"I was no longer able to process the fact that a key opens the door," Palma recounted, adding that the computer screen practically seemed foreign to her. "What I was perceiving was different and so how I was responding was different -- if someone was asking for a pen, I would give them, for example, a key."

These symptoms led her to the emergency room in at least 10 separate times, but she got discharged as soon as the doctors ruled out a brain bleed.

No one knew what was going on, until a small lesion in the left frontal lobe of her brain was detected during a brain scan.

Dr. Jonathan Rasouli, who is the chief resident of neurosurgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and his team decided that the best choice would be to perform a biopsy of the lesion.

According to Palma, she was told that her symptoms likely stemmed from a malignant tumor. In all likelihood, the doctors told her, she would need chemotherapy and radiation even after the surgery. While the surgery was risky, Palma considered it a risk worth taking.

Brain Surgery Reveals Tapeworm

During the second surgery following the earlier "planning surgery," the surgical team including Rasouli spotted the lesion that appeared much like a quail egg.

It gave the doctors pause as this egg-like lesion clearly isn't a brain tumor. Rasouli told CNN that brain tumors aren't supposed to resemble quail eggs.

"Most brain tumors are very soft, very mushy, they're not very well defined, they're infiltrative and it's difficult to get completely around them," he explained.

When Rasouli opened up the extracted lesion, a baby tapeworm came out.

Palma, Rasouli, and other doctors are puzzled over how and how long she's been infected with neurocysticercosis. After all, she noted, she has never been outside the United States nor does she eat raw meat.

Fortunately, she's recovering well with no more symptoms.

About Neurocysticercosis

Neurocysticercosis is a parasitic infection in the brain caused by larval cysts of the pork tapeworm. People usually get infected by ingesting eggs found in the feces of someone with intestinal pork tapeworm. Tapeworm eggs are transmitted through contaminated food, water, or surfaces.

While preventable and treatable, it's the most severe form of cysticercosis and is known to cause seizures. It's also potentially fatal.

According to CDC, neurocysticercosis is the leading cause of adult onset epilepsy in the world. There are around 1,000 hospitalizations in United States due to this infection every year.

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