Thyroid, Parathyroid and Adrenal Cancer
The thyroid, parathyroid and adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is made up of a group of glands that make and secret hormones that the body uses to regulate many important body functions including digestion, growth, sleep and reproduction. Cancer of these glands can be benign or malignant.
Located in the front of the neck, the thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that produces hormones that are carried through the blood to every part of the body. Thyroid hormones do everything from helping the body metabolize energy to ensuring proper function of the heart, brain, muscles and more. When thyroid tissue grows uncontrollably, it can cause nodules to develop in the thyroid gland. These nodules can be benign or malignant. Malignant cancer cells can spread to the lymph nodes, bloodstream and/or other organs. Papillary cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer making up approximately 70% of cases. This type is slow growing and does not spread quickly outside of the thyroid. Other types may grow faster and spread more quickly.
The parathyroid glands are four small glands attached to the thyroid in your neck. Parathyroid cancer is somewhat rare and occurs when a tumor is formed and can spread to the thyroid and neck muscles. The cancerous cells produce an excess of parathyroid hormone (PTH) that causes abnormally high amounts of calcium in the blood, or hypercalcemia, that causes problems with the bones and kidneys.
The adrenal glands are located above each of the kidneys. Most adrenal disease can be benign called adenoma, however, adrenal carcinoma can occur. The adrenal glands produce and release hormones also called steroids to the body and include cortisol, aldosterone, adrenal androgens. Adrenal gland cancers may be found due to increased productions of adrenal hormones. Adrenal cancer can be aggressive and my recur after surgery.
Oftentimes, the only symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump or nodule in the thyroid gland that can be felt upon examination. If symptoms occur, they may include:
- Lump in the neck
- Pain in the lower front of neck
- Hoarse voice
- Trouble swallowing
- Trouble breathing
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
Symptoms of adrenal cancer may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight gain or weight loss
- High blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
- Feelings of anxiety
Thyroid surgery is recommended to treat thyroid cancer. There are two main types of thyroid surgery, a partial thyroidectomy, which is the removal of half of the thyroid and a total thyroidectomy, which is the removal of all or most of the thyroid tissue. Which surgery is recommended will depend on the size of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread outside of the thyroid. Often, surgery alone is the cure for thyroid cancer. However, if the cancer is larger, has spread to lymph nodes or the patient is at high risk of recurrence, radioactive iodine treatment may follow surgery. After treatment, most patients require synthetic hormone for life.
Surgery is the most common treatment for parathyroid cancer. The surgery is done to remove one or more of the diseased glands and patients will usually have to have their calcium levels monitored after surgery.
Adrenal surgery is usually the treatment of choice when the cancer has not spread to other areas of the body. Malignant adrenal cancer cells can spread and cause metastatic lesions and may be surgically removed or treated with chemotherapy for systemic treatment. Radiation therapy is sometimes used for cancer that is localized.Previous Page Last Review Date: May 18, 2020