Parathyroid cancer is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of a parathyroid gland. The parathyroid glands are four pea-sized organs found in the neck near the thyroid gland. The parathyroid glands make parathyroid hormone (PTH or parathormone). PTH helps the body use and store calcium to keep the calcium in the blood at normal levels.
A parathyroid gland may become overactive and make too much PTH, a condition called hyperparathyroidism. Hyperparathyroidism can occur when a benign tumor (noncancer), called an adenoma, forms on one of the parathyroid glands, and causes it to grow and become overactive. Sometimes hyperparathyroidism can be caused by parathyroid cancer, but this is very rare. The extra PTH causes:
- The calcium stored in the bones to move into the blood.
- The intestines to absorb more calcium from the food we eat.
- This condition is called hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the blood).
The hypercalcemia caused by hyperparathyroidism is more serious and life-threatening than parathyroid cancer itself and treating hypercalcemia is as important as treating the cancer.
Signs & Symptoms
Most parathyroid cancer signs and symptoms are caused by the hypercalcemia that develops. Signs and symptoms of hypercalcemia include the following:
- Feeling very tired
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss for no known reason
- Being much more thirsty than usual
- Urinating much more than usual
- Trouble thinking clearly
Other signs and symptoms of parathyroid cancer include the following:
- Pain in the abdomen, side, or back that doesn’t go away
- Pain in the bones
- A broken bone
- A lump in the neck
- Change in voice such as hoarseness
- Trouble swallowing
Other conditions may cause the same signs and symptoms as parathyroid cancer. Check with your doctor if you have any of these problems.
There are four types of standard treatment. Your OHC doctor will help you determine the best care plan for you.
- Surgery: Surgery (removing the cancer in an operation) is the most common treatment for parathyroid cancer that is in the parathyroid glands or has spread to other parts of the body. Because parathyroid cancer grows very slowly, cancer that has spread to other parts of the body may be removed by surgery in order to cure the patient or control the effects of the disease for a long time. Before surgery, treatment is given to control hypercalcemia.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing.
- Supportive care: Supportive care is given to lessen the problems caused by the disease or its treatment. Supportive care for hypercalcemia caused by parathyroid cancer may include the following:
- Intravenous (IV) fluids
- Drugs that increase how much urine the body makes
- Drugs that stop the body from absorbing calcium from the food we eat
- Drugs that stop the parathyroid gland from making parathyroid hormone