New York woman learns 'brain tumor' is actually parasite

A New York woman who was told she may have a brain tumor instead received some good — but stomach-churning — news, according to TODAY

Rachel Palma, 42, of Middletown told the show that, last year, she began experiencing insomnia and having hallucinations and "horrific nightmares." Occasionally, she said she would lose control of her right hand and drop things or have trouble finding the right words to say. 

"My episodes were getting more and more bizarre," she said. "There were days that I didn’t know where I was."

When Palma finally got an MRI scan, doctors discovered a lesion on the left side of her brain that was as big as a marble. Dr. Jonathan Rasouli, the chief neurosurgery resident at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai who was part of the team that treated Palma, said that the wound initially appeared to be a malignant brain tumor. 

"My husband and I were both in shock and we just wanted it taken care of," Palma said. "I never really allowed myself to think that it was cancer."

During the operation last September, however, Rasouli and Dr. Raj Shrivastava, a neurosurgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital, noticed something unusual. A brain tumor is normally defined as a soft mass of tissue that is spread across the brain. The bulge in Palma's head, on the other hand, was a "very firm, very well encapsulated thing," Rasouli said. In fact, "it looked like a quail egg," he added. 

When Rasouli and Shrivastava removed the mass from Palma's brain and cut it, they found a small tapeworm inside. 

"She had a single parasite in her head that we were able to take out — we were very happy," Rasouli told TODAY. "It was one of those rare situations where you see a parasite and you’re like, wow this is great!"

Perhaps even more unusual, though, was the fact that the parasite — a pork tapeworm called neurocysticercosis that is incredibly rare in the U.S.— found its way inside Palma's head. The tapeworm is more commonly found in regions like Latin America. 

"I thought ‘gross.’ I didn’t know what to think. I was relieved at that point that it wasn’t cancer and that I wouldn’t need any further treatment," Palma recalled. "I don’t like to speculate how I may have contracted it because I don’t know."

Read Full Story