What Are Thyroid and Parathyroid Cancers?
Situated in the neck, the thyroid produces hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism. Near this small gland are four smaller glands known as the parathyroid glands. Like the thyroid, these glands emit hormones, and these hormones control the level of calcium in the body’s blood and bones. Cancer occurs when the cells of the thyroid or parathyroid mutate and then multiply, growing into a tumor.
Unfortunately, it is unclear what causes most cancers of the thyroid and parathyroid. Genetic mutations are responsible for some of these cancers, and exposure to radiation could be a factor as well.
Many people with thyroid cancer have no symptoms, although at times there can be difficulty swallowing or hoarseness. More troublesome symptoms include a lump or swelling in the neck or breathing problems.
Parathyroid cancer is usually associated with a very high calcium level and this can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Flu-like symptoms — These cancers often cause a feeling of fatigue or weakness, and these symptoms are often accompanied by loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.
- Input/output changes — Feeling thirstier than usual or experiencing excessive urination or constipation often occurs.
- Pains — There may be pain felt in the bones, abdomen, back or side that doesn’t subside.
Once thyroid or parathyroid cancer is diagnosed, appropriate treatment is prescribed to destroy or remove cancer cells. Available treatment options include:
- Surgery — Based on the extent of cancer, all or part of the thyroid, parathyroid glands and possibly the surrounding lymph nodes are surgically removed.
- Radiation therapy, chemotherapy and radioactive iodine — Depending upon the particular cancer, radioactive iodine may be given by mouth after recovery from surgery. At times, radiation therapy and some new forms of chemotherapy may be necessary.
- Thyroid hormone therapy — Following surgical removal of the thyroid, hormone replacement helps keep the body’s chemical levels in balance.
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