Other names: Thyrocalcitonin; Human Calcitonin

Calcitonin is a hormone, which is produced by the C-cells in the thyroid gland. The function of calcitonin is largely unknown; however changes in the level of calcitonin in the blood may indicate problems with the thyroid gland, including medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) and C-cell hyperplasia.

Why is the test used?

This test is primarily used to diagnose medullary thyroid cancer and C-cell hyperplasia. The test is usually ordered when a patient has symptoms of these conditions but it is also used during treatment to see how effective the treatment is.

The test is also used to monitor patients who are at high risk of developing multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2; the test is usually ordered for those with a family history of the condition. MEN 2 is an inherited condition which is associated with a number of different illnesses, including MTC.

How is the test performed?

The test is done by collecting a sample of blood from a vein in the arm. A needle is inserted into the vein and the blood is collected in a syringe. For this test the sample must be collected on ice and then taken to the laboratory for immediate analysis using centrifugation. The patient is required to fast for a period of time (usually 8-12 hours during the night) before the test; your doctor will discuss this with you when they talk to you about the test.

What do the test results mean?

If levels of calcitonin in the blood are higher than usual, this means too much is being produced by the body. Significantly higher levels than normal usually indicate either C-cell hyperplasia or MTC (medullary thyroid cancer); however, doctors will use other tests, such as biopsies and ultrasound scans to reach a firm diagnosis.

If the test is carried out while a patient is having treatment for MTC, the levels will indicate the success of the treatment if levels fall then it is likely that the treatment is working well. If levels stay low once the treatment has been completed, this indicates that the treatment was a success. If the levels start to rise again after a course of treatment this may mean that the illness has returned.

Specific Blood Tests

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