What Is Parathyroid Cancer?
You have four pea-sized parathyroid
glands in your neck that are near or attached to the back of your thyroid.
These glands release parathyroid hormone (PTH).
Parathyroid hormone helps regulate the
amount of calcium in the body. If calcium levels drop too low, your parathyroid
glands secrete PTH. This helps bring more calcium into your blood by taking it
out of your bones and increasing how much of it is reabsorbed by your
intestines. If your calcium levels get too high, your body produces less PTH.
If your parathyroid glands produce too
much PTH, you have a condition called hyperparathyroidism. This is often caused
by a tumor in one of your parathyroid glands. In most cases, the tumor is
benign. Cancerous parathyroid tumors are rare.
What Are the Symptoms of
Most of the symptoms of parathyroid cancer
are not directly caused by the cancer itself. Instead, they result from the hypercalcemia
caused by this type of cancer.
Some of these symptoms are obvious
consequences of having high calcium levels in your blood and the increasing
weakness of your bones. These include:
- pain in your bones
- fractured or broken bones
- kidney stones
Other symptoms are more general. You
- muscle weakness
- more thirsty than usual
You might also experience any of the
- frequent and excessive urination
- unexplained weight loss
- appetite loss
- stomach ulcers
- vocal changes like hoarseness
- pain in your side, back, or abdomen that doesn’t
- difficulty thinking clearly
What Are the Risk Factors
for Parathyroid Cancer?
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes
some people to develop parathyroid cancer. There are some risk factors that
make you more likely to develop this condition:
- family history of parathyroid cancer
- familial isolated hyperparathyroidism (FIHP)
- multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 syndrome
FIHP and MEN1 are inherited disorders,
which means they’re passed down from parent to child.
It’s important to remember that this
is a very rare condition. If you have a tumor in one of your parathyroid
glands, chances are good that it’s benign rather than cancerous. According to
the Stanford Medicine Cancer Institute,
only about 1 percent of people who are diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism have
How Is Parathyroid Cancer
It can be very difficult for a doctor
to diagnose parathyroid cancer. This is usually because it’s hard to tell the
rare cancerous parathyroid tumors apart from the much more common benign
If your doctor suspects you might have
this condition, the first thing they might do is feel your neck. According to City
of Hope (a California-based cancer treatment
center), cancerous parathyroid tumors can be felt over 30 percent of the time.
Your doctor will also perform several
blood tests. Since a tumor causes your glands to release too much PTH, your
doctor will want to check the amount of PTH in your blood. High levels of PTH
cause your blood calcium level to rise, so your doctor will also check your
blood calcium levels.
After these tests, if your doctor
still suspects parathyroid cancer, they'll perform imaging tests. Possible
- computed tomography (CT) scan
- angiogram (X-ray with special contrast dye)
- sestamibi/SPECT (single proton emission
computerized tomography) scan: uses the protein sestamibi and a radioactive
material to find abnormalities of the parathyroid gland)
How Is Parathyroid Cancer
Treating parathyroid cancer usually
involves two steps: getting rid of the cancer and treating the high levels of
calcium in your blood.
You’ll generally need surgery to get
rid of the tumor. Even if your doctor isn’t sure whether the tumor is
cancerous, they still may want to remove it.
In some cases, your doctor might not
be able to tell which of your parathyroid glands has the tumor. In that case,
your surgeon will need to check all your glands during the procedure to find
the cancerous one.
Treating the high blood calcium levels
usually involves medications. In some cases, you might need intravenous fluids.
What Are the Possible
Complications of Parathyroid Cancer?
Parathyroid cancer may metastasize
(spread) to your lungs, bones, or other parts of your body. Even if the cancer
doesn’t metastasize, and the surgeon removes the entire tumor, the cancer may
eventually come back.