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What is Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Multiple endocrine neoplasia refers to a group of syndromes that affect the body's endocrine system, including the pancreas, thyroid, adrenals, and pituitary gland. Specifically, small tumors begin to form in multiple glands that cause them to overproduce hormones. Multiple endocrine neoplasia is a genetic condition, and symptoms can appear at any age. Many people with the condition suffer from muscle weakness, abdominal pain, and fatigue, among many other physical symptoms. Most tumors associated with multiple endocrine neoplasia are benign, though they can occasionally become cancerous and spread to other parts of the body.

Doctors have identified two main types of multiple endocrine neoplasia. Type I involves benign tumors in two or more glands, usually the pancreas, pituitary, and parathyroid glands. The tumors cause glands to produce an abundance of hormones. Overproduction of parathyroid hormone can lead to a condition called hyperparathyroidism, in which excessive levels of calcium build up in the body and cause kidney stones. Pancreatic tumors cause excessive insulin, leading to low blood sugar, and overactive pituitary glands create too much prolactin and growth hormone.

Type II neoplasias affect the thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands. Tumors associated with type II multiple endocrine neoplaasia can lead to medullary thyroid cancer and pheochromocytomas, which are cancers of the adrenals. Many people experience neuromas, malignant growths that wrap around nerves. Like type I, type II neoplasias are inherited from parents.

Most people who suffer from type I or type II neoplasias frequently experience abdominal pain, fatigue, weakness, and nausea. Some individuals have gastrointestinal problems such as bloating and diarrhea. Hormonal changes can cause a person to lose weight and stop growing body hair. Blood pressure issues associated with neoplasias can induce heart palpitations, a rapid heart rate, and chronic chest pain. If a person notices any symptoms associated with neoplasias, he or she should visit a physician immediately to obtain a proper diagnosis and learn about treatment options.

Doctors usually diagnose multiple endocrine neoplasia by taking x-rays, conducting magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and analyzing blood and urine samples. MRI scans that show signs of tumors and fluid samples with high hormone levels indicate the presence of neoplasias. Doctors generally conduct several more diagnostic tests to determine whether a person has type I or type II tumors.

Treatment for multiple endocrine neoplasia usually involves surgery to remove part or all of the affected glands. Ongoing hormone replacement therapy is often necessary following surgical procedures to ensure normal endocrine functioning and hormone levels. Most people experience a full recovery after surgery, though tumors can reemerge in some patients.

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