Woman's Brain Tumor Turns Out to Be a Baby Tapeworm Living in Her Head

A woman who thought she had a brain tumor was "relieved" to discover the lump was in fact a parasitic worm.

Rachel Palma knew something was up when she started acting out of character. She would forgot words, and tried to call her dead relatives, ABC 7 reported. The 42-year-old from Middletown, New York, also suffered "horrific nightmares," hallucinations and couldn't sleep, she told Today. When she tried to use her right hand, she would suddenly drop things.

"My episodes were getting more and more bizarre," Palma told Today of her symptoms which emerged in early 2018. "There were days that I didn't know where I was."

After a few trips to the emergency room, doctors performed an MRI scan on Palma which showed there was a marble-sized lesion on the left hemisphere of her brain, which is the dominant side in most right-handed people and controls language and speech.

Palma told Today she and her husband were "both in shock" by the diagnosis.

"I never really allowed myself to think that it was cancer," she said.

In the fall of 2018, surgeons operated on Palma, but were surprised to find what they thought would be a soft tumor was in fact a firm ball. It resembled a quail egg, Mount Sinai Hospital neurosurgeon Dr. Raj Shrivastava told Today.

When they cut it open, they found a baby tapeworm inside.

tapeworm parasite
A tapeworm revealed in a micrograph film, 1986. Centers for Disease Control

Dr. Jonathan Rasouli, chief neurosurgery resident at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, told ABC 7: "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!"

Rasouli told Today: "It was one of those rare situations where you see a parasite and you're like, wow this is great!"

Palma's diagnosis changed from a malignant brain tumor to neurocysticercosis: which occurs when the pork tapeworm infects the central nervous system. According to the World Health Organization, the condition is spread when an individual eats under-cooked pork, or other infected foods; drink water containing tapeworm eggs; or because of poor hygiene. Neurocysticercosis is the most common cause of epilepsy in the developing world.

Some people might not need treatment, while others can take medication, or will require surgery to remove the worm.

Palma told Today her initial reaction when she was told she had been infected by a parasite was "gross." She doesn't know how she caught the condition.

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

pigs farm animal stock getty
Pigs can carry the parasite which causes neurocysticercosis. Getty
Woman's Brain Tumor Turns Out to Be a Baby Tapeworm Living in Her Head | Health