Parathyroid Cancer: The Basics

Author: Marisa Healy, BSN, RN
Last Reviewed: August 23, 2022

Your parathyroid is made up of 4 pea-sized glands in your neck near your thyroid. The parathyroid gland makes parathyroid hormone. This hormone helps the body use, store, and keep calcium at a normal level. Parathyroid cancer is caused by parathyroid gland cells growing out of control. As the number of cells grow, they form a tumor.

Parathyroid cancer that has spread from the parathyroid to some other part of the body is called metastatic cancer.


Two genetic disorders are known risks for parathyroid cancer:

  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1).
  • Familial isolated hyperparathyroidism (FIHP).


There are no screening tests for parathyroid cancer.

Signs of Parathyroid Cancer

Signs of parathyroid cancer are often caused by too much calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia).

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Losing weight or not feeling hungry.
  • Feeling thirsty.
  • Trouble thinking clearly.
  • Peeing more..
  • Constipation

Other signs of parathyroid cancer are a lump in the neck, weakness, and feeling more tired than usual.

Diagnosis of Parathyroid Cancer

When your healthcare providers think you may have parathyroid cancer, they will order tests. Some of the tests they might use are:

  • An exam of your body will be done and your provider will ask you questions about your health.
  • Blood tests to check your hormone levels and how well your parathyroid is working.
  • Imaging tests to see which gland(s) is overactive and to see if the cancer has spread.

Staging Parathyroid Cancer

Parathyroid cancer is not staged, but is called either localized or metastatic.

  • Localized means that the cancer is found in the glands and may have spread to tissues close to the glands.
  • Metastatic means that the cancer had spread to other parts of the body like the lungs, liver, and bones.


Often, these treatments are used:

    • Surgery:
      • En bloc resection: The whole parathyroid gland and the capsule around it are removed. In some cases, lymph nodes, half of the thyroid gland, muscle, tissues, and nerves are also removed.
      • Debulking: As much tumor is removed as possible.
    • Radiation Therapy: The use of high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells.
    • Chemotherapy: Medications are used to kill cancer cells.

Supportive care:

    • Intravenous (IV) fluids (fluids given into a vein).
    • Medications that help you make more urine.
    • Medications that stop the body from taking in too much calcium from foods.
    • Medication that stops the parathyroid gland from making too much hormone.

This article is an introduction to parathyroid cancer. You can learn more about parathyroid cancer diagnosis and treatment by using the links below.

Surgical Procedures: Surgery and Staging for Parathyroid Cancer

Parathyroid Cancer: Surgery and Staging

Cancer.Net. Parathyroid Cancer. 2021.

National Cancer Institute. Parathyroid Cancer Treatment Professional Version. 2021.

National Cancer Institute. Parathyroid Cancer Treatment Patient Version. 2021.

NCCN Guidelines Version 2.2020 Neuroendocrine and Adrenal Tumors. 2021. (log in required).

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