Calcitonin

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Also known as: Human Calcitonin; Thyrocalcitonin
Formal name: Calcitonin
Related tests: RET Oncogene; Calcium, TSH, T3, T4, Thyroglobulin, CEA

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To help diagnose and monitor C-cell hyperplasia and medullary thyroid cancer; to screen those at risk for multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN 2)

When to Get Tested?

When your doctor suspects that you have or when you are being treated for medullary thyroid cancer, or when a family member has medullary thyroid cancer or MEN 2

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm

Test Preparation Needed?

Overnight fasting may be required; follow instructions provided by your doctor or the laboratory.

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Location of the thyroidCalcitonin is a hormone produced by special cells in the thyroid called C-cells. The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that lies over and flat against the windpipe in the throat. It produces calcitonin and several hormones that help control the rate of metabolism, primarily thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). This test measures the amount of calcitonin in the blood.

Calcitonin is involved in the regulation of calcium levels in the blood and inhibits bone breakdown (resorption), although exactly how calcitonin works in the human body is unclear. 

In two rare conditions, C-cell hyperplasia and medullary thyroid cancer, excessive amounts of calcitonin are produced. C-cell hyperplasia is a benign condition that may or may not progress to become medullary thyroid cancer. Medullary thyroid cancer is malignant – it can spread beyond the thyroid and can be difficult to treat if it is not discovered early.

About 75-80% of medullary thyroid cancer cases are sporadic, occurring in those who do not have a family history of the disease. About 20-25% of cases are related to an inherited mutation in the RET gene that leads to multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN 2). MEN 2 is a syndrome associated with several related diseases, including medullary thyroid cancer and pheochromocytomas. The altered RET gene is inherited in an autosomal dominant fashion. Only one copy of the mutated gene – from either a father or mother – is required to have a greatly increased risk of developing medullary thyroid cancer. Most cases of sporadic medullary thyroid cancer develop when people are in their 40s or 50s, and the prevalence is higher in women. The inherited form affects both sexes equally and can occur at an earlier age.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

Overnight fasting may be required. Follow the instructions provided by your doctor or the laboratory.

The Test

Common Questions

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Article Sources

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.

Sources Used in Current Review

Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 21st ed. McPherson R, Pincus M, eds. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier: 2007, Pp 341-342.

(© 1995-2012). Test ID: CATN9160 Calcitonin, Serum. Mayo Clinic Mayo Medical Laboratories [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com/test-catalog/Overview/9160 through http://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com. Accessed January 2012.

Meikle, A. W. (Updated 2011 October). Thyroid Cancer. ARUP Consult [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.arupconsult.com/Topics/ThyroidCancer.html?client_ID=LTD#tabs=0 through http://www.arupconsult.com. Accessed January 2012.

(Revised 2011 June 29). Thyroid Cancer, How is thyroid cancer diagnosed? American Cancer Society [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/ThyroidCancer/DetailedGuide/thyroid-cancer-diagnosis through http://www.cancer.org. Accessed January 2012.

Dugdale, D. (Updated 2010 March 2). Medullary carcinoma of thyroid. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000374.htm. Accessed January 2012.

Konstantakos, A. (Updated 2011 August 12). Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma. Medscape Reference [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/282084-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed January 2012.

Richards, M. et. al. (2010 February 19). Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia, Type 2. Medscape Reference [On-line information]. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/123447-overview through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed January 2012.

Pagana, K. D. & Pagana, T. J. (© 2011). Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 10th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO. Pp 212-213.

Sources Used in Previous Reviews

Thomas, Clayton L., Editor (1997). Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. F.A. Davis Company, Philadelphia, PA [18th Edition].

Pagana, Kathleen D. & Pagana, Timothy J. (2001). Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 5th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO.

Brown, T., Updated (2004 January 27). Calcitonin. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003699.htm.

Cohen, E. Updated (2003 May 2). Medical Encyclopedia: Medullary carcinoma of thyroid. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000374.htm.

Burman, K. (2003 July 23). Topics in Thyroid Disease, Should All Patients With a Thyroid Nodule Have Routine Serum Calcitonin Measurements? Medcape, from Medscape Diabetes & Endocrinology 5(2) 2003 [On-line information]. Availableonline at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/458789?src=search through http://www.medscape.com.

Randolph, G. and Maniar, D. (2000). Medullary Carcinoma of the Thyroid. Medscape, from Cancer Control: Journal of the Moffitt Cancer Center [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/408987?src=search through http://www.medscape.com.

(© 1995-2005). Thyroid Gland Disorders, Introduction. The Merck Manual of Medical Information – Second Home Edition [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec13/ch163/ch163a.html through http://www.merck.com.

Liebert, M. (2003 June 6). Thyroid Tests for the Clinical Biochemist and Physician, Calcitonin (CT) and RET Proto-Oncogene Measurement. Medscape from Thyroid 13(1):68-74, 2003 [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/452670?src=search through http://www.medscape.com.

Dumont, J.E., et. al. (2002 August 1, Revised). Chapter 1, The Phylogeny, Ontogeny, Anatomy, and Metabolic Regulation of the Thyroid, The Secretory Unit – The Follicle. Thyroid Disease Manager [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.thyroidmanager.org/Chapter1/1-frame.htm through http://www.thyroidmanager.org.

Wiesner, G. and Snow-Bailey, K. (2005 March 7, Updated). Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2. GeneReviews [On-line information]. Available online through http://www.genetests.org.

(© 2005). Calcitonin. ARUP’s Guide to Clinical Laboratory Testing [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.arup-lab.com/guides/clt/tests/clt_a135.jsp#1059013 through http://www.arup-lab.com.

Elisei, R; Bottici, V; Luchetti, F; Di Coscio, G; Romei, C; Grasso, L; Miccoli, P; Iacconi, P; Basolo, F; Pinchera, A; Pacini, F: Impact of Routine Measurement of Serum Calcitonin on the Diagnosis and Outcome of Medullary Thyroid Cancer: Experience in 10,864 Patients with Nodular Thyroid Disorders. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2004;89:163-168.

Pagana, Kathleen D. & Pagana, Timothy J. (© 2007). Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 8th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO. Pp 220-221.

Wu, A. (2006). Tietz Clinical Guide to Laboratory Tests, Fourth Edition. Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis, Missouri. Pp 194-199.

Thomas, Clayton L., Editor (1997). Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. F.A. Davis Company, Philadelphia, PA [18th Edition]. Pp 285.

Schlumberger, M. et. al. (2007 December 10). New Therapeutic Approaches to Treat Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma. Medscape from Nat Clin Pract Endocrinol Metab 4(1):22-32, 2007. [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/566894 through http://www.medscape.com. Accessed on 11/1/08.

Hershman, J. (2008 June, Revised). Thyroid Cancers. Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec12/ch152/ch152j.html?qt=calcitonin&alt=sh through http://www.merck.com. Accessed on 11/1/08.

Lyon, E. et. al. (2008 May, Reviewed) Multiple Endocrine Neoplasias - MEN. ARUP Consult [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.arupconsult.com/Topics/EndocrineDz/MEN.html# through http://www.arupconsult.com. Accessed on 11/1/08.

Wiesner, G. and Snow-Bailey, K. (2005 March 7, Update). Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2. GeneReviews [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/bookshelf/br.fcgi?book=gene&part=men2 through http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed on 11/1/08.

(Updated October 3, 2007) American Cancer Society: How is Thyroid Cancer Diagnosed? Available online at http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_3X_How_is_thyroid_cancer_diagnosed_43.asp?sitearea= through http://www.cancer.org. Accessed November 2008.

(Update December 6, 2007) Rennert N. Calcitonin. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003699.htm. Accessed November 2008.