How we’re improving parathyroid cancer care

Until recently, decades passed with little progress in improving the survival rates of parathyroid cancer patients. But our specialized, multidisciplinary team led by Naifa L. Busaidy, M.D., and Nancy D. Perrier, M.D., is bringing parathyroid cancer patients new hope. We sat down with them to understand this rare disease and how MD Anderson is advancing parathyroid cancer treatment. Here’s what they shared. What is a parathyroid? We all have four parathyroids located in our necks. These endocrine glands are only the size of a sunflower seed, but they control the body’s calcium by producing a regulatory hormone. When a parathyroid becomes overactive and produces too much of this hormone, it’s called hyperparathyroidism. The most common endocrine disorder, hyperparathyroidism can result in tumor growth in the neck. Most parathyroid tumors are benign, but some patients have a genetic mutation that leads to the development of parathyroid cancer. If hyperparathyroidism progresses to cancer, it’s important that it’s caught and treated early, when treatment is most effective. That’s why it’s so important for patients with hyperparathyroidism to be monitored by skilled specialists, such as by our team. What are common parathyroid cancer symptoms? When monitoring hyperparathyroidism, we’re suspicious that it’s progressed to cancer if the patient’s calcium and parathyroid hormone levels are high. We’re also concerned if diagnostic imaging, such as a CT scan, ultrasound or a specialized sestamibi parathyroid scan, shows unusual features of the parathyroid gland, such as the glands appearing bigger than normal or calcified. In this case, we also check for a lump on the patient’s neck. In addition, we closely monitor patients who have a family history...