What is endocrine surgery?
Endocrine surgery refers to operations on one or more of the endocrine glands. These glands secrete hormones into the bloodstream, and have an important influence over the functions of almost all cells in the body. Endocrine surgeons are surgeons with special expertise and training in operations on a number of the endocrine glands including the thyroid gland, the parathyroid glands, the adrenal glands, the endocrine pancreas, and some neuroendocrine glands. There are a number of other endocrine glands and these are treated by different surgeons. They include the pituitary gland in the brain, which secretes various stimulating hormones and which is treated by neurosurgeons, and the ovaries, which secrete sex hormones and which are treated by gynaecologists. Endocrine surgeons work closely with their medical colleagues (endocrinologists) who are often the doctors who will be responsible for both the initial diagnosis and investigation of endocrine disorders. Endocrinologists may also be involved in long term follow up after endocrine surgery. Endocrine surgeons also work with nuclear medicine physicians, radiologists, pathologists, geneticists and anaesthetists, in order to provide the best care for their patients.
Use the links below to find out more about each of the endocrine surgical operations:
The thyroid gland is shield-like organ located just below the larynx or Adam's apple. It is a small gland that wraps around the trachea or windpipe. The gland converts iodine from the diet into the thyroid hormone, thyroxine. The levels of this hormone control most of your body’s metabolic functions including temperature, heart rate and growth. Click here to learn more about the thyroid gland and its surgery.
There are normally four parathyroid glands located near or attached to the back surface of the thyroid just below the larynx or Adam's apple. Each gland is no larger than a grain of rice. These glands secrete parathyroid hormone (PTH) which controls the calcium level in your body. Click here to learn more about the parathyroid glands and their surgery.
The adrenal glands are yellow triangular shaped glands at the top of your kidneys. They are normally about 2 to 3 cm in size. They produce a number of hormones such as cortisol, aldosterone, adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones are responsible for a number of functions including control of blood pressure and dealing with your body's response to stress. The adrenal gland also manufactures some of the sex hormones. Click here to learn more about the adrenal glands and their surgery.
The pancreas is an organ located deep in the abdomen that has two main functions. It produces digestive enzymes (exocrine pancreas) and also has islets of specialised endocrine cells "islet cells" scattered throughout it (endocrine pancreas). These cells secrete important hormones such as insulin, glucagon and gastrin. In addition, clusters of endocrine cells can be found in most organs of the body, especially those associated with an embryological structure know as the "neural crest". Any of these cells can develop special tumours called "neuroendocrine" tumours. The commonest example is the carcinoid tumour which develops in the gastrointestinal tract or the lung. Click here to learn more about the pancreatic and neuroendocrine glands and their surgery.
Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) refers to a number of inherited syndromes involving tumours of more than one endocrine gland. Click here to learn more about the MEN syndromes.