What is Parathyroid Cancer? (with pictures)

Steve R.
Steve R.
A physical exam of the neck is the most common way a doctor can detect signs of parathyroid cancer.
A physical exam of the neck is the most common way a doctor can detect signs of parathyroid cancer.

Parathyroid cancer, also referred to as hyperparathyroid or parathyroid carcinoma, is a cancerous tumor in the tissues of parathyroid glands. Found in the neck, parathyroid glands control the levels of calcium in the body. An uncommon disease, parathyroid cancer may strike men and women equally and typically arises after the age of 30. Characterized by weakness and a lump in the neck, parathyroid is a slow growing cancer that is treatable, often with surgery. What causes parathyroid cancer remains a mystery.

An ultrasound can be used to check or confirm parathyroid cancer.
An ultrasound can be used to check or confirm parathyroid cancer.

A person with parathyroid cancer will experience a variety of symptoms. These may include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. In addition, an individual may experience unknown weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, and constipation. Other indications of this form of cancer include soreness in the abdomen and bones, as well as difficulty swallowing.

There are many different ways to confirm a diagnosis of this form of cancer. One of the most common is a physical exam. A physician can feel around the neck to check for any lumps. In addition, blood tests can check for a high level of calcium in the blood, which is an indication of parathyroid cancer. Other methods include a radioactive scan of the parathyroid glands, a CT scan, and an ultrasound.

Many options exist for treating this form of cancer. Surgery is the standard treatment for cancer in the parathyroid glands. As this type of cancer advances slowly throughout the body, surgery can help manage the effects of cancer. In some cases, the entire parathyroid gland must be taken out, along with surrounding muscles and tissues in the neck. As the vocal cords are also located in the neck, surgery in some instances may affect a patient's speech.

Other treatment options may include radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Also, patients may be given drugs that prevent the body from absorbing calcium in food and from creating parathyroid hormone. Chances for recovery vary, depending on many factors, including if the high amount of calcium in the blood can be curbed, how advanced the cancer is, and the patient’s overall health.

For most patients, parathyroid cancer often recurs after treatment. This typically happens within five years after the initial surgery, but can also recur more than two decades later. When the cancer recurs, it typically returns in the tissues or lymph nodes located in the neck. If a person has high blood calcium levels after undergoing treatment, it is a strong indicator that parathyroid cancer has returned.

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    • A physical exam of the neck is the most common way a doctor can detect signs of parathyroid cancer.
      A physical exam of the neck is the most common way a doctor can detect signs of parathyroid cancer.
    • An ultrasound can be used to check or confirm parathyroid cancer.
      An ultrasound can be used to check or confirm parathyroid cancer.