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Parathyroid cancer is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of a parathyroid gland. Having certain inherited disorders can increase the risk of developing parathyroid cancer. Signs and symptoms of parathyroid cancer include weakness, feeling tired, and a lump in the neck.


  • Bone pain
  • Kidney problems, including pain in the upper back and excessive urination
  • Stomach pain
  • History of gastroduodenal ulcers, which are ulcers found in the stomach and/or small intestine
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • A lump in the neck
  • Insomnia, which is trouble sleeping
  • Malaise, a general feeling of discomfort or illness


When blood calcium levels are too high, the parathyroid glands produce less PTH. But sometimes one or more of these glands produce too much hormone, leading to abnormally high levels of calcium (hypercalcemia) and low levels of phosphorus in your blood.

When calcium levels in your blood fall too low, your parathyroid glands secrete enough PTH to restore the balance. PTH raises calcium levels by releasing calcium from your bones and increasing the amount of calcium absorbed from your small intestine.


  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy


Blood/urine tests. Many types of blood or urine tests may be done if a person has problems with their parathyroid. The most common test is a serum calcium test. Elevated serum calcium levels can suggest the presence of a parathyroid tumor or hyperplasia, which are overactive cells, on 1 or more glands. Another common laboratory test looks for elevated levels of the parathyroid hormone (PTH) and phosphorus levels in the blood. Doctors may suspect parathyroid cancer if these blood tests find a very high level of calcium and/or PTH.

Ultrasound. An ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of the internal organs. An ultrasound is very useful for locating a tumor in or around the thyroid gland. However, it has limitations if the tumor is located lower in the neck or upper chest.

Surgery. Removing the entire tumor during a surgical operation is the most common way to diagnose both benign and cancerous parathyroid tumors. The tumor is then analyzed by a pathologist. A pathologist is a doctor who specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluating cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease. Parathyroid cancer is usually suspected before an operation is done, based on a high serum calcium level, tumor size, and scans. A biopsy is generally not recommended as a separate procedure from surgery for a parathyroid tumor.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses magnetic fields, not x-rays, to produce detailed images of the body. MRI can be used to measure the tumor’s size. A special dye called a contrast medium is given before the scan to create a clearer picture. This dye can be injected into a patient’s vein or given as a pill or liquid to swallow. An MRI is not usually used to diagnose parathyroid cancer.

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