What is Parathyroid Cancer?
Parathyroid cancer is a cancerous growth, or tumor, on one of the parathyroid glands. There are four of these glands, two on top of each lobe of the thyroid gland at the base of the neck. These glands control levels of calcium in the body. This cancer is very rare.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with cancer and the diagnosis, treatment and management of parathyroid cancer. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms
Parathyroid cancer symptoms are mostly due to a high level of blood calcium and may include:
- A lump in the neck
- Bone pain or fractures
- Change in voice
- Frequent thirst and urination
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea and poor appetite
- Trouble swallowing
To determine if someone has parathyroid cancer, we ask about medical history and conduct a physical examination. Sometimes, a physician feeling the neck can detect a cancerous parathyroid tumor. Other diagnostic tests can include:
Blood and urine tests: These check for levels of calcium and parathyroid hormone which could indicate parathyroid cancer.
Sestamibi scan: During this scan, a radioactive substance is injected into a vein and will collect in the parathyroid gland, making it highly visible on a special camera.
Ultrasound: This scan of the neck, using soundwaves, can show abnormalities on a parathyroid gland.
Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of detailed pictures, taken from different angles, are created by a computer linked to an X-ray machine.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A large magnet, radio waves and a computer are used to produce pictures of the parathyroid glands.
Surgery: Surgical removal of the tumor is a common way to diagnose cancer.
Most cases of parathyroid cancer result from a mutation in cellular DNA, and researchers aren’t sure of the cause. Risk factors that can contribute to parathyroid cancer include:
Head or neck radiation: Previous cancer treatments can raise a person’s risk for developing parathyroid cancer, but such radiation exposure is more likely to cause thyroid cancer.
Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type I (MEN1): This genetic condition causes an increased risk of parathyroid cancer.
Familial isolated hyperparathyroidism (FIHP): People with this inherited condition are at higher risk for parathyroid cancer.
Parathyroid cancer cannot be prevented.
The earlier that parathyroid cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome. Factors that affect prognosis include the stage of disease, whether the tumor and the area surrounding the tumor can be completely removed by surgery, the patient’s health and whether the calcium level in the blood can be controlled.
Treatment and Recovery
Parathyroid cancer treatment depends upon how far the condition has progressed, a person’s overall health and his or her preferences. Treatment methods may include:
Correction of High Blood Calcium
Treating parathyroid cancer may also include treating the high levels of calcium in the blood that are associated with the conditions. Treatment may include medication and IV fluid.
Parathyroid cancer is best treated with surgery to remove the parathyroid gland and any tissue around it that looks abnormal.
This treatment uses high-energy X-rays to kill any cancer cells that may be left after surgery. The use of radiation therapy after surgery may help reduce the risk of parathyroid cancer coming back.
If parathyroid cancer has spread to other areas of the body, chemotherapy may be a part of your treatment plan. Chemotherapy uses special drugs designed to kill cancer cells.
Clinical trials test new ways to treat cancer and manage its symptoms.
Parathyroid cancer can recur, so follow-up care after successful treatment is important. In addition, the cancer itself and some treatments can result in complications, depending on the type and stage of the cancer. Common complications may include:
- Hoarseness or voice changes
- Abnormal levels of calcium in the blood
Next Steps with MyChart
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