Your parathyroid glands, four very small glands located near or at the back of the thyroid gland, produce parathyroid hormone (PTH). This hormone helps control the amount of calcium and phosphorus in your blood.
A parathyroid adenoma is a benign tumor on one of these glands. This causes your calcium and phosphorus balance to be disrupted, as the affected gland releases more PTH than it should. This condition is called hyperparathyroidism.
Sometimes, doctors aren’t sure what causes a tumor to appear on one of your glands.
In other cases, you may be genetically predisposed to develop these tumors. Radiation exposure may also lead to an increased likelihood of developing a parathyroid adenoma, as suggested by a 1981 study on rats (Fjalling et al., 2009).
You are more likely to develop a parathyroid adenoma if you are a woman and over 60 years old. However, they can appear in men and women of other ages as well.
There is a good chance that you will not experience any symptoms if you have this condition. According to MedlinePlus from the National Institutes of Health, many people find out they have one of these tumors during a blood test for another problem. (National Institutes of Health)
According to the Mayo Clinic, these tumors can lead to hyperparathyroidism. In fact, these tumors are the most common cause of this condition. The hyperparathyroidism associated with these tumors can cause issues with your bones since your calcium levels are affected. Your bones might be fragile, brittle or painful. You may experience fractures. (Mayo Clinic)
You may also experience kidney stones and/or excessive urination.
In addition to these symptoms, you may have more general or nonspecific symptoms. These might include:
- mental changes such as depression, lethargy, or confusion
- pain in your muscles or abdomen
Because these tumors cause your body to produce too much PTH, your doctor will check your blood levels for this hormone. If they are elevated, your doctor may consider this condition.
PTH is not the only thing in your blood that can suggest that you may have a parathyroid tumor. Because PTH helps regulate your calcium and phosphorus, unusual blood levels of those minerals may also suggest that you have one of these tumors. Your doctor might also check your bone density and look for kidney stones with an X-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan.
Treatment typically involves a surgical removal of the tumor.
Having one of these tumors used to mean that doctors would need to check all four of your parathyroid glands during surgery. However, today’s technology allows them to figure out where the tumor is and whether you have more than one. According to the UCLA Health System, only around 10 percent of people with this condition have a tumor in more than one gland. These surgeries are successful in curing the tumors in 90 percent of cases. (UCLA)
If your condition is mild enough, your doctor might not choose to perform the surgery. Instead, he or she might simply choose to monitor your condition.
You may need to take medications. Hormone replacement therapy can be helpful for postmenopausal women whose bone density is a concern. For other patients, calcimimetics, drugs that can decrease the secretion of PTH, may be prescribed.