URL of this page: https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/calcitonin-test/

Calcitonin Test

What is a calcitonin test?

This test measures the level of calcitonin in your blood. Calcitonin is a hormone made by your thyroid, a small, butterfly-shaped gland located near the throat. Calcitonin helps control how the body uses calcium. Calcitonin is a type of tumor marker. Tumor markers are substances made by cancer cells or by normal cells in response to cancer in the body.

If too much calcitonin is found in the blood, it may be a sign of a type of thyroid cancer called medullary thyroid cancer (MTC). High levels may also be a sign of other thyroid diseases that can put you at a higher risk for getting MTC. These include:

  • C-cell hyperplasia, a condition that causes abnormal growth of cells in the thyroid
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2(MEN 2), a rare, inherited disease that causes the growth of tumors in the thyroid and other glands in the endocrine system. The endocrine system is a group of glands that control a variety of important functions, including how your body uses and burns energy (metabolism).

Other names: thyrocalcitonin, CT, human calcitonin, hCT

What is it used for?

A calcitonin test is most often used to:

  • Help diagnose C-cell hyperplasia and medullary thyroid cancer
  • Find out if treatment for medullary thyroid cancer is working
  • Find out if medullary thyroid cancer has returned after treatment
  • Screen people with a family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN 2). A family history of this disease can put you at a higher risk for developing medullary thyroid cancer.

Why do I need a calcitonin test?

You may need this test if you:

  • Are being treated for medullary thyroid cancer. The test can show whether the treatment is working.
  • Have completed treatment to see whether the cancer has come back.
  • Have a family history of MEN 2.

You may also need this test if you have not been diagnosed with cancer, but have symptoms of thyroid disease. These include:

  • A lump in the front of your neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
  • Pain in your throat and/or neck
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Change to your voice, such as hoarseness

What happens during a calcitonin test?

A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You may need to fast (not eat or drink) for several hours before the test. Your health care provider will let you know if you need to fast and if there are any special instructions to follow.

Are there any risks to the test?

There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.

What do the results mean?

If your calcitonin levels were high, it may mean you have C-cell hyperplasia or medullary thyroid cancer. If you are already being treated for this thyroid cancer, high levels may mean the treatment is not working or that cancer has returned after treatment. Other types of cancer, including cancers of the breast, lung, and pancreas, can also cause high levels of calcitonin.

If your levels were high, you will probably need more tests before your health care provider can make a diagnosis. These tests may include a thyroid scan and/or a biopsy. A thyroid scan is an imaging test that uses sound waves to look at the thyroid gland. A biopsy is a procedure where a health care provider removes a small piece of tissue or cells for testing.

If your calcitonin levels were low, it may mean your cancer treatment is working, or you are cancer free after treatment.

Is there anything else I need to know about a calcitonin test?

If you are or have been treated for medullary thyroid cancer, you will probably be tested regularly to see if treatment was successful.

You may also get regular calcitonin tests if you have a family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2. Testing can help find C-cell hyperplasia or medullary thyroid cancer as early as possible. When cancer is found early, it's easier to treat.

References

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The medical information provided is for informational purposes only, and is not to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact your health care provider with questions you may have regarding medical conditions or the interpretation of test results.

In the event of a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.