Canadian Cancer Society logo

Parathyroid cancer

You are here: 

Benign tumours and conditions of the parathyroid gland

Benign tumours or conditions of the parathyroid gland are non-cancerous, do not spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body and are not usually life-threatening.

Parathyroid adenoma

Parathyroid adenomas are non-cancerous tumours of the parathyroid glands. They occur more often in women over the age of 60 years. Parathyroid adenomas are more common than parathyroid carcinoma. They are the most common cause of hyperparathyroidism (an overproduction of parathyroid hormone or PTH). Hyperparathyroidism leads to high levels of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia).

Risk factors

The following risk factors may increase a person’s chance of developing a parathyroid adenoma:

  • an inherited syndrome
    • multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN 1)multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN 1)A rare genetic condition that is associated with tumours in more than one endocrine gland and an increased risk of developing endocrine system cancers.
    • familial isolated hyperparathyroidism (FIHP)
  • hyperparathyroidism–jaw tumour (HPT-JT) syndrome
  • radiation therapy to the head or neck

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of a parathyroid adenoma result from hypercalcemia and may include:

  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • nausea
  • constipation
  • kidney stones
  • muscle aches
  • bone fracture

Some people have no symptoms and the adenoma is discovered accidently when tests are done for another reason.

Diagnosis

If the signs and symptoms of a parathyroid adenoma are present, or if the doctor suspects a parathyroid adenoma, tests will be done to make a diagnosis. Tests may include:

  • blood tests to check parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels
  • blood chemistry tests to check calcium, phosphorus chloride and bicarbonate levels
  • 24-hour urine test to check for increased calcium in the urine
  • bone x-rays or bone density tests to help detect fractures, bone loss and softening
  • sestamibi scan
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the parathyroid glands
  • ultrasound, x-ray and computed tomography (CT) scan of the kidneys

Treatment

Treatment options for parathyroid adenoma may include:

  • surgery to remove the parathyroid gland (parathyroidectomy) – most common treatment
  • regular check-ups with the doctor if hyperparathyroidism is mild
  • estrogen replacement therapy to help relieve symptoms and prevent bone loss in post-menopausal women

Parathyroid hyperplasia

Parathyroid hyperplasia is the enlargement of all 4 parathyroid glands. Parathyroid hyperplasia can develop occasionally in people with no risk factors.

Risk factors

The most common risk factors for parathyroid hyperplasia are kidney failure and vitamin D deficiency and malabsorption.

The following inherited syndromes may increase a person’s chance of developing parathyroid hyperplasia:

  • multiple endocrine neoplasia type I (MEN I)multiple endocrine neoplasia type I (MEN I)A rare genetic condition that is associated with tumours in more than one endocrine gland and an increased risk of developing endocrine system cancers.
  • multiple endocrine neoplasia type II (MEN II)
  • familial isolated hyperparathyroidism (FIHP)

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of parathyroid hyperplasia result from hypercalcemia and may include:

  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • sore muscles
  • constipation
  • kidney stones
  • bone fracture

Diagnosis

If the signs and symptoms of parathyroid hyperplasia are present, or if the doctor suspects parathyroid hyperplasia, tests will be done to make a diagnosis. Tests may include:

  • blood tests to check parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels
  • blood chemistry tests to check calcium, phosphorus chloride, and bicarbonate levels
  • 24-hour urine test to check for increased calcium in the urine
  • bone density tests to help detect fractures, bone loss and softening

Treatment

Surgery is the main treatment for parathyroid hyperplasia:

  • Usually 3.5 glands are removed.
  • The remaining parathyroid tissue is implanted into the forearm so there is easy access to operate if symptoms come back.
  • The remaining tissue helps control calcium levels.

Treatment of the underlying condition that causes the hyperplasia may also include kidney transplant, Vitamin D supplements and correction of malabsorption.

Persistent or recurrent hypercalcemia occurs after surgery about 20% of the time.

Stories

Lisa Hamel I’m living proof that one can lead a normal life after cancer.

Read Lisa's story

Establishing a national caregivers strategy

Illustration of caregivers

The Canadian Cancer Society is actively lobbying the federal government to establish a national caregivers strategy to ensure there is more financial support for this important group of people.

Learn more