Parathyroid Cancer

Parathyroid Cancer is a rare cancer that forms in tissues of one or more of the parathyroid glands (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.

Parathyroid Cancer Risk Factors

Treatment with radiation therapy may increase the risk of developing a parathyroid adenoma. Other risks include:

  • Familial isolated hyperparathyroidism (FIHP)
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) syndrome


  • Weakness
  • 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
  • Constipation
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • 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


The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history 
  • Blood chemistry studies 
  • Parathyroid hormone test
  • Sestamibi scan 
  • CT scan (CAT scan)
  • SPECT scan (single photon emission computed tomography scan)
  • Ultrasound exam
  • Angiogram 
  • Venous sampling 

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • Whether the calcium level in the blood can be controlled
  • The stage of the cancer
  • Whether the tumor and the capsule around the tumor can be completely removed by surgery
  • The patient's general health

Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood. The following imaging tests may be used to determine if cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs, liver, bone, heart, pancreas, or lymph nodes:

  • CT scan (CAT scan)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

Parathyroid cancer is described as either localized or metastatic:

  • Localized parathyroid cancer is found in a parathyroid gland and may have spread to nearby tissues.
  • Metastatic parathyroid cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver, bone, sac around the heart, pancreas, or lymph nodes.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.