What is the definition of Parathyroid Cancer?

Parathyroid cancer is a cancerous (malignant) growth in a parathyroid gland.

What are the alternative names for Parathyroid Cancer?

Parathyroid carcinoma

What are the causes for Parathyroid Cancer?

The parathyroid glands control the calcium level in the body. There are 4 parathyroid glands, 2 on top of each lobe of the thyroid gland, which is located at the base of the neck.

Parathyroid cancer is a very rare type of cancer. It affects men and women equally. The cancer often occurs in people older than 30.

The cause of parathyroid cancer is unknown. People with a genetic conditions called multiple endocrine neoplasia type I and hyperparathyroidism-jaw tumor syndrome have an increased risk for this disease. People who had head or neck radiation also may be at increased risk. But this type of radiation is more likely to cause thyroid cancer.

What are the symptoms for Parathyroid Cancer?

Symptoms of parathyroid cancer are mainly caused by a high level of calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia), and may affect different parts of the body.

Symptoms include:

  • Bone pain
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Fractures
  • Frequent thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Kidney stones
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Poor appetite

What are the current treatments for Parathyroid Cancer?

The following treatments may be used to correct hypercalcemia due to parathyroid cancer:

  • Fluids through a vein (IV fluids)
  • A natural hormone called calcitonin that helps control calcium level
  • Drugs that stop the breakdown and reabsorption of bones in the body

Surgery is the recommended treatment for parathyroid cancer. Sometimes, it is hard to find out if a parathyroid tumor is cancerous. Your doctor may recommend surgery even without a confirmed diagnosis. Minimally invasive surgery, using smaller cuts, is becoming more common for parathyroid disease.

If tests before the surgery can find the affected gland, surgery may be done on one side of the neck. If it isn't possible to find the problem gland before surgery, the surgeon will look at both sides of your neck.

Chemotherapy and radiation don't work well to prevent the cancer from coming back. Radiation may help reduce the spread of cancer to the bones.

Repeated surgeries for cancer that has returned may help:

  • Improve the survival rate
  • Reduce the severe effects of hypercalcemia

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Parathyroid Cancer?

Parathyroid cancer is slow growing. Surgery may help extend life even when the cancer spreads.

What are the possible complications for Parathyroid Cancer?

The cancer may spread (metastasize) to other places in the body, most often the lungs and bones.

Hypercalcemia is the most serious complication. Most deaths from parathyroid cancer occur due to severe, difficult-to-control hypercalcemia, and not the cancer itself.

The cancer often comes back (recurs). Further surgeries may be needed. Complications from surgery can include:

  • Hoarseness or voice changes as a result of damage to the nerve that controls the vocal cords
  • Infection at the site of surgery
  • Low level of calcium in the blood (hypocalcemia), a potentially life-threatening condition
  • Scarring

When should I contact a medical professional for Parathyroid Cancer?

Call your health care provider if you feel a lump in your neck or experience symptoms of hypercalcemia.

Parathyroid glands


Asban A, Patel AJ, Reddy S, Wang T, Balentine CJ, Chen H. Cancer of the endocrine system. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 68.

Fletcher CDM. Tumors of the thyroid and parathyroid glands. In: Fletcher CDM, ed. Diagnostic Histopathology of Tumors. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 18.

National Cancer Institute website. Parathyroid cancer treatment (PDQ) - health professional version. www.cancer.gov/types/parathyroid/hp/parathyroid-treatment-pdq. Updated March 17, 2017. Accessed February 11, 2020.

Torresan F and J Iacobone M. Clinical features, treatment and surveillance of hyperparathyroidism-jaw tumor syndrome: An up-to-date and review of the literature. Int J Endocrinol 2019. Published online Dec 18, 2019. www.hindawi.com/journals/ije/2019/1761030/.

Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Participants: 3000
  • Start Date: January 1, 2015
Registre Tumeurs Endocrine - Eurocrine
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Recruiting
  • Phase: N/A
  • Intervention Type: Device
  • Participants: 160
  • Start Date: March 16, 2020
Assessing Benefits of Near Infrared Autofluorescence (NIRAF) Detection for Identifying Parathyroid Glands During Total Thyroidectomy.