Facts About Parathyroid Cancer

Understanding Parathryroid Cancer

Parathyroid cancer is very rare. Most cases of parathyroid disease, including almost all cases of overactive parathyroid, are not cancer. At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, our endocrine tumor specialists — all UW Medicine physicians — have experience evaluating and treating people whose disease is cancer related.

What Is Parathyroid Cancer?

You have four parathyroid glands in your neck — two near each half of your thyroid gland. Normally each parathyroid gland is about the size of a grain of rice. They make and release parathyroid hormone (PTH), which helps maintain a healthy level of calcium in your blood.

Cancer in a parathyroid gland usually causes a high level of PTH (overactive parathyroid, or hyperparathyroidism). This leads to a high level of calcium in your blood (hypercalcemia). High blood calcium can be dangerous, and it requires treatment.

Typically cancer develops in only one of the four parathyroid glands.


Hypercalcemia from parathyroid cancer can lead to a range of symptoms. But the symptoms are not always obvious. They can include:

  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Trouble thinking
  • Bone pain

If cancer causes a parathyroid gland in your neck to grow, you may have somewhat different symptoms, such as these:

  • Lump in the neck
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble swallowing or speaking
  • Shortness of breath

Types of Treatment for Parathyroid Cancer

Fred Hutch treats the full range of cancers that can affect endocrine glands, including your parathyroid glands. Our endocrine tumor experts are UW Medicine physicians who also see patients at UW Medical Center - Montlake. They work together closely to provide coordinated, world-class treatment for you.


If your doctor suspects you might have parathyroid cancer, the doctor will examine you, ask about your medical history and ask for tests, such as:

  • Blood tests — including tests to check the level of parathyroid hormone and calcium in your blood
  • Imaging studies — such as a radionuclide (sestamibi) parathyroid scan, computed tomography (CT) scan or ultrasound
  • Genetic testing — to check for mutations that are common in people with parathyroid cancer

Risk Factors

Most of the time, there’s no clear cause for parathyroid cancer. The following inherited disorders may increase your risk:

  • Familial isolated hyperparathyroidism (FIPH), in which parathyroid tumors lead to excess parathyroid hormone
  • Hyperparathyroidism-jaw tumor syndrome, which causes overactive parathyroid glands and tumors that usually are benign but sometimes are cancerous
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia, which can affect the parathyroid glands as well as other glands that make hormones

Having radiation therapy to your neck can also increase your risk for parathyroid cancer.

Fred Hutch has researched and treated Parathyroid Cancer for decades.


There are many resources online for learning about your disease. Health educators at the Fred Hutch Patient and Family Resource Center have compiled a list of trusted sources to help you get started.

Whether you are newly diagnosed, going through treatment or know someone with cancer, our staff are available to tailor personalized resources and answer questions about support options in the community. 

Cancer Research Organizations

Our list of online resources provides accurate health information from reliable and reputable sources, like the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).

American Society of Clinical Oncology

American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO): Guide to Parathyroid Cancer

This is Cancer.Net's Guide to parathyroid cancer. Here you can learn more about parathyroid cancer, treatment, the latest research and clinical trials.

National Cancer Institute

National Cancer Institute (NCI): Parathyroid Cancer-Patient Version

The NCI is the federal government's principal agency for cancer research and training. Here you can find more information about parathyroid cancer treatment, research and coping with cancer.