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Parathyroid Disease

Parathyroid glands are pea-sized glands located near each corner of the thyroid gland in the neck. Parathyroid glands produce a substance called parathyroid hormone (PTH), which controls the levels of calcium and phosphorous in the blood. PTH also helps the body make vitamin D and helps prevent loss of too much calcium in the urine.

Most people have four parathyroid glands, but some people may be missing a gland or have an extra gland. Sometimes parathyroid glands are located inside the thyroid gland, thymus gland, mediastinum or other places. These misplaced glands can still work normally.

Cancer of the parathyroid glands is extremely rare, with most cases occurring in people with hyperparathyroidism (HPT). Less than 1% of all patients with HPT have cancer in one of their parathyroid glands. Men and women are equally affected by this disease, which usually strikes people in their 50s.


In addition to parathyroid cancer, MD Anderson also treats related parathyroid diseases:

  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Hypoparathyroidism


Cancer of the parathyroid glands is extremely rare, with most cases occurring in people with hyperparathyroidism (HPT). Less than 1% of all patients with HPT have cancer in one of their parathyroid glands. Men and women are equally affected by this disease, which usually strikes people in their 50s.

Symptoms of parathyroid cancer may include:

  • A lump in the neck
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sudden spike in blood calcium levels (hypercalcemia)


Diagnosing parathyroid cancer can be difficult. Biopsies generally aren't performed because the procedure can cause the tumor to break apart and spread. Hypercalcemia and a noticeable mass in the neck are the best indicators of parathyroid cancer. Ultrasound of the neck can also help find localized disease.


The primary treatment for parathyroid cancer is surgical removal of the malignant gland and a portion of the adjacent thyroid gland. Radiation therapy may be used after surgery, especially for patients at high risk for local recurrence because of remaining microscopic disease or failure to contain the tumor during surgery. Recurrent disease is also treated with surgery, and some patients may benefit from surgical treatment of parathyroid cancers that have metastasized to the lungs.

Although parathyroid cancer progresses slowly, it can be very persistent. The cancer recurs (returns) at the original disease site in 36% to 80% of patients, anywhere from one month to 19 years after initial treatment (average 2.6 years). Controlling hypercalcemia can help many patients experience longer disease-free periods between recurrences.


Cancer is a journey that no one needs to take alone. There are many forms of support to help you through every stage: diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Whether you meet with other cancer survivors like yourself, use complementary therapies or individual coping mechanisms, help is available in many forms. Listed below are just some of the ways to find help...and hope.

Support Groups

Getting together with other cancer patients in a support group is a valuable coping tool. Support groups are usually focused on a single disease or topic, such as breast cancer survivors or people coping with life-changing side effects from their cancer or cancer therapy. These groups allow participants to meet others like themselves and seek strength from each other. Most major cities and cancer hospitals offer support groups that meet weekly or monthly. There are also dozens of online support web sites or message boards for those who may not have access to a traditional meeting.

Complementary Therapies

Complementary therapies are used in conjunction with cancer treatment, in an effort to reduce treatment side effects, ease depression and anxiety and help cancer patients take their mind off the negative aspects of their situation. Complementary therapies may include mind-body exercises like yoga, tai chi and Qi gong; visualization or guided imagery; using art or music as therapy and self-expression and traditional Eastern medicine such as acupuncture.

Physical Activity

Staying physically active as much as possible during cancer treatment has many positive benefits. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, a hormone that helps elevate mood, as well as decreasing feelings of fatigue.

Exercises for cancer patients can range from simple stretches done in the bed or chair, to more active pursuits such as walking or light gardening work. However, it’s important not to push yourself too hard. Check with your doctor before attempting any physical activity to make sure you are up to it.


Many people find it helpful to keep a journal of their cancer treatment experience. It may be as simple as recording symptoms and side effects into a notebook, or may include personal emotions and opinions about what they may be going through. Journals can be private, like a diary, or shared with loved ones and even strangers.

Increasingly, people are turning to the Internet to share their cancer journey with the world at large and to seek out others with similar experiences. Many cancer patients have begun their own web log, or “blog” to publicize their battle with cancer. Twitter, a mini-blogging technology that limits posts to 140 characters, has also proven to be a helpful tool for cancer patients to keep friends updated and reach out to others.

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St. Gregorios Medical Mission Hospital was started in 1975, and was registered under the Travancore — Cochin Literacy, Scientific and Charitable Act with Reg No. A334/78. The Institution is owned and controlled by the society of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the head of which is His Holiness Baselious Marthoma Paulose II, Read more

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