What is Parathyroid Cancer?

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Apr 17, 2013

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What is Parathyroid Cancer

Parathyroid cancer, also known as parathyroid carcinoma, is a rare cancer form that develops in the parathyroid glands (pea-sized glands located next to the thyroid in the front of the neck).

The parathyroid glands produce parathyroid hormone (PTH), which is responsible for raising calcium levels in the blood after entering the bloodstream. These force bones to release calcium, stimulating the intestines to absorb more calcium from food and signalling the kidneys to withhold calcium from the urine. The parathyroid glands have a natural feedback mechanism that helps adjust their production of PTH to maintain blood calcium levels in the normal range.


When parathyroid cells become malignant (cancerous), they multiply abnormally and typically form a firm, greyish-white tumour that may invade the nearby thyroid gland and neck muscles. As a result of out of parathyroid cells, too much PTH is produced. High levels of PTH in the blood (hyperparathyroidism) with abnormally high levels of calcium in the blood (hypocalcaemia) is the end result of most of these cases.

The abnormal production of PTH forces the bones to pour out critical amounts of calcium leads to bone pain or osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) besides making kidneys retain large amounts of calcium, which triggers the formation of kidney stones. Owing to excessively high calcium levels, kidney damage, dehydration and changes in neurological function including confusion may happen. There could be an enlargement of the parathyroid gland, often due to a benign enlargement of the gland, called an adenoma.

Who are at Risk

Parathyroid cancer occurs in adults between 45 and 51 years old, although the researches have been inconclusive to determine if there is any specific environmental or lifestyle factors that increase the risk of this illness. However, a few studies have indicated it as an inherited tendency, with several generations of a single family being affected.


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