By Michele Sequeira

Expert Team Tackles Thyroid and Parathyroid Diseases

UNM experts combine their skills to tackle thyroid and parathyroid diseases

When the thyroid and parathyroid glands don't work well, the entire body feels out of balance.

"People with thyroid and parathyroid diseases can have neck masses, fatigue, kidney stones and many other symptoms," says Nathan Boyd, MD.

Boyd and his team recently launched The University of New Mexico Thyroid and Parathyroid Surgery Program, housed at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center, to offer state-of-the-art treatments for these diseases. This year, 360 New Mexicans are expected to receive a thyroid cancer diagnosis and many more are expected to be diagnosed with other diseases of the thyroid and parathyroid glands.

nathan-boyd-md.jpgThe thyroid, shaped like a butterfly, sits just below the Adam's apple at the front and middle of the neck. The tiny parathyroid glands sit behind the thyroid gland near the tip of the butterfly wings. Together, they produce important hormones that control many different body functions, from producing energy to retaining fluids to regulating electrolytes.

Boyd, a cancer surgeon in UNM's Department of Surgery, practices at UNM Cancer Center and UNM Hospital and specializes in removing tumors of the head and neck. He explains that although people with thyroid and parathyroid diseases often benefit from surgery, it often isn't enough; the body must be gently coaxed back into balance.

Thyroid nodules are dense areas within the gland and though common, some can be cancerous. In the past, the treatment for thyroid cancer was removal of the entire gland. But, Boyd says, for people with lower-risk cancers, more doctors now consider partial gland removal or potentially even no surgery, coupled with close observation.

Symptoms of thyroid and parathyroid diseases can vary widely from person to person because the glands control hormones and electrolytes that affect many body systems. So, Boyd's team includes surgeons, endocrinologists, pathologists, radiologists and nuclear medicine doctors.

The endocrinologists prescribe medications to help people restore their delicate balance of hormones and electrolytes after surgery. Pathologists take and study samples of the thyroid and parathyroid nodules to help decide a diagnosis and to guide treatment. Radiologists are expert at imaging the thyroid and parathyroid glands with ultrasound and CT scans. And nuclear medicine doctors specialize in pinpointing the location of nodules and cancer tumors using radio-nucleotide scans.

"We draw upon the expertise of everyone on our multidisciplinary team," Boyd says. He further explains that the entire team chooses the surgical and therapeutic treatments that they think will work best for each person and decides the order in which the treatments should be given.

"Our goal is to provide the highest level of care to patients with surgical disorders of the thyroid and parathyroid glands," Boyd says. "We combine the most current guidelines for care with technical expertise in all stages of treatment, from diagnosis to surgery to long term surveillance."


The UNM Thyroid and Parathyroid Surgery Clinic is open at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1201 Camino de Salud, Albuquerque. The team includes surgeons Nathan Boyd, MD; Michael Spafford, MD; Andrew Cowan, MD, PhD; Garth Olson, MD; and, Noah Syme, MD; and endocrinologists Ivan Pinon, MD; Christina Lovato, MD; Matthew Bouchonville, MD; David Schade, MD; and Mark Burge, MD. Additional team members include pathologist Shweta Agarwal, MD, radiologist Rachel Runde, MD, and nuclear medicine physicians Saeed Elojeimy, MD, and Lisa Blacklock, MD.

UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in a 500-mile radius.

Its more than 120 board-certified oncology specialty physicians include cancer surgeons in every specialty (abdominal, thoracic, bone and soft tissue, neurosurgery, genitourinary, gynecology, and head and neck cancers), adult and pediatric hematologists/medical oncologists, gynecologic oncologists, and radiation oncologists. They, along with more than 600 other cancer healthcare professionals (nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, navigators, psychologists and social workers), provide treatment to 65% of New Mexico's cancer patients from all across the state and partner with community health systems statewide to provide cancer care closer to home. They treated approximately 14,000 patients in about 100,000 ambulatory clinic visits in addition to in-patient hospitalizations at UNM Hospital.

A total of nearly 400 patients participated in cancer clinical trials testing new cancer treatments that include tests of novel cancer prevention strategies and cancer genome sequencing.

The more than 100 cancer research scientists affiliated with the UNMCCC were awarded $35.7 million in federal and private grants and contracts for cancer research projects. Since 2015, they have published nearly 1000 manuscripts, and promoting economic development, they filed 136 new patents and launched 10 new biotechnology start-up companies.

Finally, the physicians, scientists and staff have provided education and training experiences to more than 500 high school, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellowship students in cancer research and cancer health care delivery.

Categories: Comprehensive Cancer Center