Parathyroid Cancer – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment
What is parathyroid cancer?
Parathyroid cancer is the cancer that starts in a parathyroid gland. There are 4 parathyroid glands. These four small organs are located on top of each lobe of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck. Parathyroid glands secrete parathyroid hormone (PTH) and they control the calcium levels in the body. When this cancer occurs, the affected parathyroid gland secretes high quantities of PTH causing hyperparathyroidism.
Parathyroid cancer is a very rare type of cancer. Men and women are equally affected. It usually occurs in people older than 30.
What causes parathyroid cancer?
What causes parathyroid cancer is not known to doctors and scientists. What is known is, people with a genetic condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia type-I have an increased risk for this cancer. People who had undergone head or neck radiation may also have an increased risk for this disease.
What are the symptoms of parathyroid cancer?
Parathyroid cancer results in hypercalcemia (high levels of calcium in the blood). The main symptoms of parathyroid cancer are mainly caused by hypercalcemia.
The following are the symptoms of hypercalcemia:
- Bone pain
- Poor appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Frequent thirst
- Frequent urination
- Kidney stones
- Muscle weakness
How is parathyroid cancer diagnosed?
Parathyroid cancer is very difficult to diagnose. The doctor will review your symptoms and medical history. He/she will perform a physical examination with special attention to the neck. The doctor will palpate the neck with hands and may find a parathyroid tumor.
Parathyroid with cancer tends to produce a very high quantity of parathyroid hormone (PTH), which increases calcium level in the blood.
The doctor will order the following tests to check PTH and calcium levels:
- Blood calcium
- Blood PTH
If parathyroid cancer is confirmed, the doctor will order a sestamibi scan (a special radioactive scan of the parathyroid glands) to find out the diseased parathyroid gland.
How is parathyroid cancer treated?
The doctor may recommend the following treatments to correct hypercalcemia caused by parathyroid cancer:
- Gallium nitrate to lower the calcium level in the blood
- Calcitonin, which is a natural hormone, to help control calcium level
- Drugs to stop the breakdown and reabsorption of bones into the body
- Intravenous fluids (IV fluids)
Generally, doctors recommend surgery to treat parathyroid cancer. Mostly, minimally invasive surgery is used. Sometimes it is very difficult to diagnose whether a parathyroid tumor is cancerous. Sometimes, the doctor may recommend surgery even without a confirmed diagnosis. In such cases, surgery may be done on both sides of the neck. If the diagnostic tests confirm cancer and identify the affected gland, surgery is done on the affected side of the neck.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.