What are parathyroid tumors?
A parathyroid tumor is a growth inside one or more of your parathyroid glands. The parathyroid glands are four small, oval-shaped glands in your neck that are close to your thyroid gland. These glands produce parathyroid hormone (PTH), which regulates calcium levels in your body. Your body needs precise calcium levels to keep your muscles, bones, and organs working properly.
Nearly all parathyroid tumors are benign (noncancerous). These types of tumors are called adenomas. Parathyroid cancer is extremely rare.
What is hyperparathyroidism?
Hyperparathyroidism occurs when one or more of your parathyroid glands becomes overactive and produces too much PTH. There are two different types of hyperparathyroidism and each has a different cause:
Primary hyperparathyroidism results when one or more of your parathyroid glands overproduces PTH. High PTH leads to high calcium levels in your blood.
The most common cause of primary hyperparathyroidism is an adenoma on one gland. Most adenomas occur randomly, but in rare instances, there may be a genetic cause.
Other causes of primary hyperparathyroidism include:
- Enlargement of multiple parathyroid glands (hyperplasia)
- A cancerous tumor, which is extremely rare
Hyperparathyroidism is typically not dangerous, and in some cases does not require treatment. Over time, hyperparathyroidism can result in weak bones and a greater risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Kidney stones, decreased kidney function, and other health problems may also occur. Your doctor will discuss with you whether you need treatment.
Secondary hyperparathyroidism occurs when your parathyroid glands overproduce PTH to compensate for low calcium levels. The most common cause of secondary hyperparathyroidism is chronic kidney failure. Kidney failure causes low calcium levels in your blood, which can cause your parathyroid gland to enlarge and produce extra PTH.
Secondary hyperparathyroidism can also result from low vitamin D or calcium levels, either as a result of your diet or your body’s ability to absorb these nutrients.