Diagnosing Parathyroid Cancer

Support Throughout the Diagnostic Process

Our physicians, nurses and support staff are here to advise you, listen to you and calm your fears. Your physicians will explain your diagnosis and compassionately offer suggestions for treatment and care. They’re here for you.

Also available for counsel, support and guidance are nurse coordinators, oncology social workers and a pastoral team. They’ll help you navigate through the system and provide additional assistance, including:

  • Social support
  • Spiritual guidance
  • Emotional support
  • Practical advice
  • Tips on coping

Call on them. They’re here for you.

Most patients with hyperparathyroidism have benign adenomas. Parathyroid cancer is very rare, but may be suspected in patients with very high calcium levels or in patients who have a family history or develop severe hyperparathyroidism at a young age.

— Terry C. Lairmore MD, Endocrine Surgeon and Chief of Surgical Oncology

Parathyroid cancer is extremely rare. But it has some specific symptoms, such as bone pain, extreme thirst and excessive urination, among others. Because these symptoms mimic those of a number of other diseases, it takes an expert team of premier diagnosticians to accurately diagnose and evaluate parathyroid tumors.

Our endocrine cancer specialists are nationally recognized in the detection, identification and classification of parathyroid tumors. The Scott & White Parathyroid Tumor Team uses the most advanced imaging equipment and techniques available to locate your tumors early, when cure is most likely.

Parathyroid Cancer Diagnostic Services

Parathyroid adenomas (noncancerous tumors) and cancerous (malignant) tumors are difficult to distinguish because they appear similar upon examination. “The diagnosis of parathyroid cancer may not be made until the time of surgery or after the final biopsy or pathology results are available,” Dr. Lairmore explains.

If you have signs or symptoms that suggest you may have a parathyroid tumor, your physician may order one or more of the following tests.

Imaging Studies

Sestamibi/SPECT Scan

If you have elevated levels of PTH (parathyroid hormone), your physician may order a sestamibi/SPECT scan. SPECT stands for single proton emission computerized tomography.

In this procedure, a specific protein (sestamibi) is linked with a radioactive substance called technetium 99 and is injected into your veins. This radioactive protein will travel to your parathyroid gland, where it will highlight the presence of any tumors, as revealed through a series of X-rays.

Additional imaging studies may include:

  • Ultrasound
  • 4D Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Laboratory Tests

Blood Chemistry Studies

Your surgeon may order several blood tests. Cancerous parathyroid tumors often produce elevated levels of PTH (parathyroid hormone). Tests may include:

  • Serum calcium test
  • Parathyroid hormone test

In general, the diagnosis of hyperparathyroidism requires inappropriately high levels of both calcium and PTH in the bloodstream.

Venous Sampling

This test is used in very select patients to help determine which parathyroid gland is overproducing PTH. In this procedure, blood samples are taken from specific veins to measure the amounts of hormones released by the parathyroid glands. This invasive test is used only in special circumstances when other noninvasive tests have not successfully located the overactive parathyroid gland.

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