Parathyroid Cancer: The Basics
Your parathyroid is 4 pea sized glands in your neck near your thyroid. The parathyroid gland makes parathyroid hormone. This hormone helps the body use, store and keep calcium at a normal level. Parathyroid cancer is caused by parathyroid gland cells growing out of control. As the number of cells grow, they form into a tumor.
Parathyroid cancer that has spread from the parathyroid to some other part of the body is called metastatic cancer.
Two genetic disorders are known risks for parathyroid cancer:
- Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1)
- Familial isolated hyperparathyroidism (FIHP)
Currently there are no screening tests for parathyroid cancer.
Signs of Parathyroid Cancer
Signs of parathyroid cancer are often caused by too much calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia).
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of weight and appetite
- Feeling thirsty
- Trouble thinking clearly
- Peeing more
Other signs of parathyroid cancer caused by the cancer itself are a lump in the neck, weakness and feeling more tired than usual.
Diagnosis of Parathyroid Cancer
When your healthcare providers think you may have parathyroid cancer, they will order tests. Some of the tests they might use are:
- An exam of your body will be done and your provider will ask you questions about your health.
- Blood tests to check your hormone levels and how well your parathyroid is working.
- Imaging tests to see which gland(s) is overactive and to see if the cancer has spread.
Staging Parathyroid Cancer
Parathyroid cancer is not staged, but referred to as either localized or metastatic.
- Localized means that the cancer is found in the glands and may have spread to tissues close to the glands.
- Metastatic means that the cancer had spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs, liver and bones.
Often, these treatments are used:
- En bloc resection: removal of the whole parathyroid gland and the capsule around it. In some cases lymph nodes, half of the thyroid gland, muscle, tissues and nerves are also removed.
- Debulking: as much tumor is removed as possible.
- Radiation Therapy: the use of high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: the use of medications to kill cancer cells.
Supportive care: this is treatment used to manage the calcium level in your body. They can be:
- Intravenous fluids (fluids given into a vein)
- Medications that help you make more urine
- Medications that stop the body from taking in too much calcium from foods
- Medication that stops the parathyroid gland from making too much hormone
This article is an introduction to parathyroid cancer. You can learn more about parathyroid cancer diagnosis and treatment by using the links below.