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Endocrine Cancers

Care for Thyroid, Parathyroid, and Adrenal Cancers

Hormones, made by the body’s endocrine system, control a wide range of functions -- metabolism, growth, and reproduction, to name a few. These processes, however, can become disrupted when cancer invades part of the endocrine system.

Some types of endocrine cancer are rare, and finding doctors who are familiar with these diseases can make a difference in your outcome. At the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center, our doctors treat hundreds of patients with endocrine cancers each year -- much more than most hospitals in the area.

A Leading Center in the Midwest

Our doctors understand what makes cancer treatment effective -- experience, teamwork and technology. We offer multidisciplinary treatment for many conditions including:

  • Thyroid cancers, including four main types: papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic. Papillary and follicular are among the most treatable cancers.
  • Parathyroid cancer, a rare condition which can affect the small glands in the neck that make a hormone that helps the body use calcium.
  • Adrenal or adrenocortical cancers, which are rare diseases that affect the outside of the adrenal glands that make adrenaline and other hormones.
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL), a rare genetic disorder characterized by abnormal growth of blood vessels and benign or cancerous tumor development in various organs, including the adrenal glands, brain and pancreas. UChicago Medicine is home to the only designated comprehensive VHL Clinical Care Center in Illinois.

Our Endocrine Genetics Clinic offers risk assessments to patients with suspected inherited endocrine tumor syndromes. Patients meet with a certified genetic counselor to review family medical history and to discuss options for genetic testing. If a tumor or risk for disease is found, University of Chicago Medicine endocrine surgeons provide recommendations for disease management.

Advanced Medical, Surgical Expertise

Treatment for many endocrine cancers is unlike care for many other cancers, which is directed by oncologists. Because of the nature of endocrine cancer, therapy is usually led by medical endocrinologists and endocrine surgeons. At the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center, a team of expert doctors collaborates on individualized treatment plans for patients. This includes targeting the cancer as well as normalizing hormone levels. Patients benefit from our top-notch radiologists and cytopathologists, who can help diagnose endocrine cancers.

Our team includes nationally recognized endocrine cancer experts who serve in leadership roles in prestigious organizations such as the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons and the American Thyroid Association.

Alyssa Parma Alyssa Parma's singing career was nearly derailed when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. An area surgeon warned her she may never sing again after surgery. Parma sought a second opinion from a UChicago Medicine surgeon who successfully removed her tumor while preserving her singing voice. »Read Parma's story

Thyroid Cancer: The Most Common Endocrine Cancer

Our doctors treat several hundred thyroid cancer cases each year. At the time of the visit, our medical endocrinologists can conduct tests using our in-office ultrasound and perform needed fine-needle aspirations. After reviewing all the data, the team of endocrinologists and endocrine surgeons makes recommendations regarding the need for surgery.

Surgery for thyroid nodules, or tumors, may include removing only part or all of the thyroid. Some types of thyroid cancer require radioactive iodine after the surgery. During this treatment, which is administered by an endocrinologist, the patient drinks a liquid that contains a type of radiation, called iodine-131, that specifically targets the thyroid. This helps destroy any remaining thyroid cancer cells. For other types of thyroid cancer, external-beam radiation therapy may be used. Follow-up includes blood work as well as imaging tests. Most people also need to take thyroid hormone replacement following surgery.

Minimally Invasive Surgery

Our surgeons are among the most experienced in the Midwest and the nation. They regularly see the most difficult-to-treat cases. In addition, the University of Chicago medical center is the only hospital in the city with three endocrine surgeons on staff. They are highly skilled at performing various operations on the thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands. In particular, they can offer advanced minimally invasive procedures that can be performed through small incisions. As a result, patients experience less scarring and pain, and a quicker recovery.

Learn about our new procedure scarless transoral thyroidectomy

For instance, surgeons can remove thyroid cancer through very small incisions in the neck to achieve the best cosmetic effect. Doctors can perform video-assisted thyroid surgery for select patients. This uses small cameras and specially designed equipment. Minimally invasive surgery is also available for some parathyroid tumors. In addition, many adrenal tumors can be removed in a minimally invasive procedure performed using a laparoscope, a small camera attached to a thin tube, and long surgical instruments.

Research into Hormone-Related Cancers

Our medical endocrinologists are world-renown for their clinical and research experience with endocrine cancers. Scientists at the University of Chicago Medical Center have studied how thyroid hormones affect physical and mental health. They have also examined thyroid hormones at the molecular level, with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Endocrine surgeons at the University of Chicago are also establishing a research database to follow patients during and after treatment. The results of this will add to doctors’ knowledge of treating these cancers now and in the future.

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