The endocrine system is complex and at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, our knowledge of it is comprehensive.
We're pioneers in caring for people with endocrine cancers. Our multidisciplinary treatment team includes recognized leaders in their fields of practice and research.
The endocrine system is the master regulator of the human body.
Through the secretion of chemical messengers — called hormone — the endocrine system controls many actions and reactions such as:
When cancer affects the endocrine system, it throws hormone production off balance and causes the involved gland or organ to malfunction.
Sometimes, the tumor itself can begin to make hormones. We call this a functioning tumor.
Cancer can also spread to other glands, organs, or structures.
Because the endocrine system includes many parts, we think of endocrine cancer as a family of distinct diseases.
Besides certain types of pancreatic cancers and thyroid cancer, other endocrine cancers include:
The two adrenal glands are above the kidneys — one over each.
Two types of tissue make up the adrenal glands: the cortex and medulla.
The adrenal cortex — or outer part of the gland — makes hormones that control our metabolism and blood pressure like:
The adrenal medulla, inside the gland, makes epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones — called catecholamin — control the “fight or flight” response.
Depending on where the disease begins, adrenal tumors can include:
These cancers affect the neuroendocrine system. The neuroendocrine system is a dual-tissue network of nerve cells spread throughout the body that produces hormones. It reaches into the gastrointestinal tract, the lungs, and elsewhere. These cancers can also affect the endocrine tissues of the pancreas.
Neuroendocrine tumor types include:
The parathyroid glands are four tiny glands — the size of a grain of rice — found near the thyroid gland. One parathyroid gland is at the top and bottom of each thyroid lobe. Some people may have more than four parathyroid glands.
These glands secrete parathyroid hormone (PTH), which regulates calcium and vitamin D in the blood and keeps them at normal levels.
Most parathyroid tumors are benign — not cancerous — and cause primary hyperparathyroidism. Doctors see parathyroid cancer in less than 1 percent of all cases of primary hyperparathyroidism.
Surgery is the main treatment for parathyroid carcinoma. It's vital that surgeons recognize the cancerous parathyroid at the time of surgery so they can also resect the affected nearby tissue. Recurrence after surgical resection is uncommon.
The pituitary gland is the “master gland” that controls or helps the regulation of many of the body’s functions, such as:
The hormones the pituitary secretes affect other parts of the endocrine system, which then produce their own distinct hormones.
This is why cancer of the pituitary gland can affect many organ systems and functions.
The pituitary gland includes two lobes: the anterior and posterior.
The anterior — or front — lobe makes hormones that affect the:
The posterior — or rear — lobe makes hormones that stimulate uterine contractions and act as antidiuretics.
A benign or cancerous tumor on either of these lobes can cause serious issues for a wide range of biological processes.
There are three main types of thyroid cancer: differentiated, medullary, and anaplastic/poorly differentiated.
Differentiated thyroid cancers come from the follicular cells, which use iodine from the blood to make thyroid hormones:
Medullary thyroid cancer begins in the cells that make calcitonin, a hormone that controls calcium metabolism. Doctors associate this form of thyroid cancer with a genetic condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2).
Anaplastic/poorly differentiated thyroid cancer is very rare and hard to treat. It's an aggressive form of thyroid cancer.
Primary thyroid lymphoma is a rare type of cancer seen in the thyroid. Metastatic cancers — cancers that spread from another site — can also affect the thyroid gland, but these aren't common.
To find out more about endocrine and thyroid cancer care at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, please call us at 412-647-2811. Or, complete an endocrine and thyroid cancer contact form.