A prospective trial evaluating a standard approach to reoperation for missed parathyroid adenoma

Nora Jaskowiak, Jeffrey A. Norton, H. Richard Alexander, John L. Doppman, Thomas Shawker, Monica Skarulis, Stephen Marx, Allen Spiegel, Douglas L. Fraker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

220 Scopus citations


Objectives: The authors evaluate the results of preoperative imaging protocols and surgical re-exploration in a series of patients with missed parathyroid adenomas after failed initial procedures for primary hyperparathyroidism. Background: The success rate is lower and the complication rate is increased in patients undergoing reoperation for primary hyperparathyroidism compared with initial procedures. Scarring and distortion of tissue planes plus the potential for ectopic gland location leads to this worsened outcome. Methods: Two hundred eighty eight consecutive patients with persistent/recurrent hyperparathyroidism were treated at a single institution after a failed procedure or procedures at outside institutions. Two hundred twenty-two of these patients (77%) were believed to have a missed single adenoma, and these patients underwent 228 operations and 227 preoperative work-ups. Preoperative evaluation consisted of a combination of four noninvasive imaging studies neck ultrasound, nuclear medicine scan, neck and mediastinal computed tomography scan, and neck and mediastinal magnetic resonance imaging. Based on the noninvasive testing alone, 27% patients underwent surgery whereas the other patients underwent invasive studies, including selective angiography (58%), selective venous sampling for parathyroid hormone (43%), or percutaneous aspiration of suspicious lesions (15%). Results: Abnormal parathyroid adenomas were found in 209 of 222 initial procedures and 6 of 6 second procedures, with an overall success rate in terms of resolution of hypercalcemia in 97% (215/222) of patients. The single most common site of missed adenoma glands was in the tracheal esophageal groove in the posterior superior mediastinum (27%). The most common ectopic sites for parathyroid adenomas are thymus (17%), intrathyroidal (10%), undescended glands (8.6%), carotid sheath (3.6%), and the retroesophageal space (3.2%). The most sensitive and specific noninvasive imaging test is the sestamibi subtraction scan, with 67% true-positive and no false positive results The rate of true positive and false positive results for ultrasound, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and technetium thallium scans were 48%/21%, 52%/16%, 48%/14%, and 42%/8%, respectively. The incidence of injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerve was 1.3%. Conclusions: A single missed parathyroid adenoma is the most common cause for a failed initial parathyroid operation. Appropriate use of preoperative imaging tests and knowledge of the potential location of parathyroid adenomas can lead to very high cure rates with minimal morbidity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)308-322
Number of pages15
JournalAnnals of surgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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