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What is a Parathyroid Tumor?

C. Webb
C. Webb

A parathyroid tumor is a tumor that grows on the parathyroid gland in the neck. When this happens, a person typically develops hyperparathyroidism, which means high blood calcium levels. The tumor causes the gland to lose its ability to self-regulate parathyroid hormone production. Fewer than one in 1,000 parathyroid tumors are malignant; however, the tumor can still cause physical symptoms. Such tumors can be surgically removed.

Left untreated, a parathyroid tumor damages the body by not regulating calcium levels in the bloodstream. As calcium levels rise, tissue and organs begin to fail. The tumor will continue to grow until it is surgically removed.

Doctor taking notes
Doctor taking notes

Healthy parathyroid glands are located in the front of the neck and are approximately the size of a grain of rice. A parathyroid tumor is usually noticed when it becomes as large as an olive, and it can take several years to grow large enough for detection. The first sign of a parathyroid tumor is often an abnormally high calcium level during a routine blood test. Diagnosis methods include blood tests, imaging of the neck, and a physical examination by a physician.

Symptoms of a parathyroid tumor include fatigue, crankiness, hair thinning at the scalp, and depression. Patients with parathyroid tumors sometimes believe they are symptom free, but once the tumor is removed, they usually report feeling much better. Charting symptoms to report to the doctor can help determine whether parathyroid testing should be pursued.

Surgical removal of the tumor is the only treatment, and an experienced surgeon can complete the surgery in less than 30 minutes. Many patients report beginning to feel physically better within hours of the operation. Calcium levels should return to normal following the procedure.

Although just one in 1,000 people will develop a parathyroid tumor, more women than men will develop parathyroid tumors, by a ratio of 75 percent to 25 percent. The average age at diagnosis is 59. The condition can affect anyone at any age, but it is extremely rare in children or teenagers.

Parathyroid tumors usually grow on one gland, but they can also grow on several glands at the same time. While the tumors are usually benign, leaving them untreated can lead to hyperparathyroidism, which has been linked to an increased risk for certain types of cancer. Anyone who has parathyroid tumor symptoms should contact a medical professional for evaluation.

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