A parathyroid tumor—also referred to as an adenoma—grows in one of the four small parathyroid glands located near the thyroid gland at the base of the neck. The parathyroid gland produces hormones that help regulate levels of phosphorus and calcium in the blood. Almost all parathyroid tumors are benign (non-cancerous), although cancer may develop in very rare cases.
Parathyroid Tumor Causes & Risk Factors
No one is certain why parathyroid tumors occur. However, researchers have found specific factors that may increase the risk of developing a parathyroid tumor.
Anyone can be diagnosed with a parathyroid tumor, but they are most likely to affect:
- Adults over 60
- People with a family history of parathyroid tumors
- People who have been exposed to high amounts of radiation, either through medical treatment or proximity to nuclear power plants
- People with certain inherited conditions, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia
Symptoms of Parathyroid Tumors
Not all parathyroid tumors cause symptoms. If symptoms do develop, they’ll likely involve hyperparathyroidism—a condition that occurs when the parathyroid glands produce too much parathyroid hormone.
Hyperparathyroidism is characterized by:
- Bone pain
- Easily broken bones
- Excessive urination
- Kidney stones
- Muscle weakness
Other possible symptoms of a parathyroid tumor include:
- Intense thirst
- A lump in the neck
- Belly pain
- Muscle pain
- Chronic fatigue
Parathyroid Tumor Diagnosis
Diagnosing a parathyroid tumor typically begins with a blood or urine test to measure the amount of calcium or parathyroid hormone in the body. From there, one or more imaging tests can be performed to view pictures of the parathyroid glands. A sestamibi/SPECT scan may also be recommended to screen for an overactive parathyroid gland and detect tumors elsewhere in the body.
If these tests suggest that a parathyroid tumor is present, a Tampa General Hospital physician may perform a biopsy to collect a small piece of the tumor and check it for cancer cells.
Parathyroid Tumor Treatment
Benign parathyroid tumor treatment is highly successful and usually curative. A parathyroid tumor that causes few or no symptoms might not require any treatment. In other cases, surgical removal of the tumor or hormone replacement therapy may be recommended.
In the unlikely event that a parathyroid tumor is cancerous, surgery may be combined with radiation therapy, chemotherapy and supportive care measures to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.