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Diagnosis and Treatment of Parathyroid Cancer

The parathyroid glands are two pairs of small, oval-shaped glands located adjacent to the two thyroid gland lobes in the neck. These glands produce parathyroid hormone, which plays a role in the regulation of calcium levels in the blood. Precise calcium levels are important in the human body, since small deviations can cause muscle and nerve impairment.

The parathyroid hormone stimulates the following functions:

What is Parathyroid Cancer

Parathyroid cancer is quite rare, and the majority of parathyroid tumors are benign adenomas, meaning they are not cancerous. Both benign and malignant parathyroid tumors increase blood levels of parathyroid hormone and wreak havoc on calcium levels. Malignant tumors tend to cause the largest increase in parathyroid hormone, yet only about oner percent of people who see their doctor for hyperparathyroidism have cancerous tumors.

Treating Parathyroid Cancer

Surgery to remove the affected gland is the mainstay of treatment for parathyroid cancer. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are very rarely used. In most cases only one of the four parathyroid glands is cancerous.

Stanford Expertise

When you are being treated for cancer you want a physician who is familiar with your particular disease. However, because parathyroid cancer is so rare it can be difficult to find a doctor who has treated parathyroid cancer patients. Our specialists at the Stanford Cancer Center not only treat parathyroid cancer patients, but also offer the most advanced treatments available today.

Surgical Excellence

Stanford is one of the few centers in the nation that offers minimally invasive radioguided parathyroidectomy (MIRP). This technique enables your surgical oncologist at the Cancer Center to quickly remove just the one cancerous gland while greatly reducing the incidence of scarring and nerve damage that can accompany more traditional parathyroid surgeries.


Physicians in the Department of Radiology are investigating the use of cutting-edge ultrasound imaging techniques to improve surgery planning. Similarly, Cancer Center surgeons are contributing to best-practices for monitoring parathyroid hormone levels during surgery.

Genetic Analysis and Counseling

Parathyroid cancer sometimes runs in families and is caused by genes. If multiple people in your family have been diagnosed with parathyroid cancer, you may want to be evaluated by genetic counselors associated with the Cancer Center who specialize in syndromes (e.g., multiple endocrine neoplasm syndromes) that can cause parathyroid cancer. If one of these syndromes runs in your family, you can be carefully monitored so that if you develop parathyroid cancer it can be caught early when it is most treatable.

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