Doctors Went to Operate on Woman’s Brain Tumor, Find Tapeworm Instead

June 7, 2019 Updated: June 26, 2019

Warning: This article contains a photo of the tapeworm.

Doctors in New York City’s Mount Sinai hospital said a 42-year-old patient was suffering from a brain tumor, but instead, they discovered a baby tapeworm inside her head.

When they went to operate on Rachel Palma, one of the surgeons said they found something that looked like a “quail egg” in her head.

“It was very shocking,” the surgeon told The Washington Post. “We were scratching our heads, surprised at what it looked like.”

They removed the organic mass from her head, cut it open, and placed it under a microscope. They realized it was a tapeworm.

According to the Post, she was diagnosed with neurocysticercosis, which is caused by the Taenia solium tapeworm.

While disgusting, Palma, of Middletown, NewYork, said she was happy that it wasn’t a cancerous growth, which would require far more treatment.

“Of course I was grossed out,” Palma told the news outlet. “But of course, I was also relieved. It meant that no further treatment was necessary.”

Palma said she was suffering from insomnia, nightmares, and other symptoms. She also suffered from hallucinations.

In January 2018, her symptoms got worse and had trouble holding items in her hands. Once, she recalled, she dropped a coffee mug on the floor.

Palma also suffered the loss of dexterity in her fingers and couldn’t text people, so she had to call them.

Then, confusion set in for her. She showed up to work one day without her uniform, locked herself out of her house, and couldn’t make sense of words.

Ultimately, she went to see a doctor at Mount Sinai, and they discovered a mass in her left frontal lobe near her speech center. They mistakenly thought it was a tumor.

An electron microscope image of a tapeworm’s head. (“Tapeworm SEM” by Mogana Das Murtey and Patchamuthu Ramasamy [CC BY-SA 3.0 (ept.ms/2Bw5evC)])
“I want people to understand that this was such a rare occurrence,” Palma said. “Every headache is not going to be a parasite.”

Palma said that after the operation, her symptoms are mostly gone.

Two MRI scans show the cysts in a person’s brain caused by the tapeworm infection. (Nishanth Dev, S. Zafar Abbas, New England Journal of Medicine)

“The best part of my story is it has a happy ending,” she told the paper.

Dr. Jonathan Rasouli, the chief neurosurgery resident at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said, “We were, like, overjoyed. We were, like, cheering and clapping. We were so happy…When we got in there and saw that it was a tapeworm, we were like, ‘YES!’ We were so happy,” Newsweek quoted him as saying.

Rasouli added, “It was one of those rare situations where you see a parasite and you’re like, wow this is great!”

Regarding how she contracted the parasite, Palma said she’s unsure, according to Newsweek.

“I was relieved at that point that it wasn’t cancer and that I wouldn’t need any further treatment,” she said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Some people with tapeworm infections never need treatment, for the tapeworm exits the body on its own. Others don’t realize they have it because they have no symptoms. However, if you’re diagnosed with intestinal tapeworm infection, medication will likely be prescribed to get rid of it.”

A tapeworm infection in the brain can be fatal. According to a report in 2019, an 18-year-old Indian man died from a severe infection that caused cysts to spread throughout his brain and other parts of his body.

Doctors diagnosed him with neurocysticercosis, a parasitic disease that is caused by a person ingesting microscopic of a pork tapeworm. The tapeworm is found in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

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