A New York woman who thought she had brain cancer was relieved to find out it wasn't a tumour in her brain.

In January 2018, Rachel Palma started getting strange symptoms such as dropping a coffee mug and losing her short-term memory.

"There were days that I didn't know where I was," she told the Today Show.

The 42-year-old eventually got a brain scan, which revealed she had an egg-shaped growth in her head and Palma was told she would need a three-hour surgery to remove it.

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Dr Jonathan Rasouli, a neurosurgery resident at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, told Live Science there were concerns the lesion could be cancerous.

However, after surgeons further studied the scan they discovered it was something entirely different.

The discovery had Dr Rasouli and his colleagues "cheering and clapping" as it turned out the growth was actually a tapeworm.

It turns out what was thought to be a growth was actually a tapeworm. Photo / ABC 7
It turns out what was thought to be a growth was actually a tapeworm. Photo / ABC 7

Surgeons showed ABC7 the brain scan and described what they saw: "This is the lesion, and you can see how it enhances - it's very bright white here. And inside of it, it's dark. And you see the same thing here."

It remains a mystery as to how the tapeworm got there, as Palma had never left the US, but she gave up finding out why and instead celebrated that she didn't have cancer.

"I stopped asking questions and started celebrating and making the most out of life," she said, "because in an instant it can be taken away."

"There is not a doubt in my mind that they saved my life," she said. "And they gave me my life back."

Having a parasite meant that Palma didn't have to have surgery and she was instead prescribed with a strong course of antibiotics.