Parasite in Undercooked Food May Be Linked to Brain Cancer

By Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC - January 14, 2021

We often hear about salmonella and E. coli when it comes to foodborne illnesses, but there is another one making headlines. A new study, led by researchers from Moffitt Cancer Center and the American Cancer Society, found that toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii, could be linked with an increased risk of developing glioma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer.

T. gondii is a parasite that is commonly found in undercooked meat or contaminated food and water. It is also found in cat feces. The researchers say up to half of the global population has been exposed to T. gondii. Most people who are infected will experience no or mild flulike symptoms, but in some cases the parasite can cause damage to the brain, eyes and other organs.

Dr. Anna Coghill
Dr. Anna Coghill, Cancer Epidemiology Department

Their study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, looked at blood samples from more than 750 people in the United States and Norway. They found that those with larger amounts of T. gondii antibodies, meaning they had been exposed to the parasite at some point, appeared to have a higher risk of developing glioma.

While the findings suggest an association between T. gondii infection and glioma, lead investigator Dr. Anna Coghill of Moffitt’s Cancer Epidemiology Department notes, “The absolute risk of being diagnosed with a glioma remains low, and these findings need to be replicated in a larger and more diverse group of individuals.”

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"Should the findings be confirmed, avoidance of exposure to toxoplasma gondii offers a way to lower glioma risk. This is important because there are few avenues to reduce risk of these aggressive tumors."

- Dr. Kathleen Egan, Cancer Epidemiology Department

“Should the findings be confirmed, avoidance of exposure to toxoplasma gondii offers a way to lower glioma risk. This is important because there are few avenues to reduce risk of these aggressive tumors,” added study senior investigator and epidemiologist Dr. Kathleen Egan.  

Gliomas are one of the most common types of primary brain tumors.  They make up about 80% of malignant brain tumors. Glioblastoma, the most common subtype, has a five-year survival rate of only 5%.

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Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC Senior PR Account Coordinator More Articles

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