Routine measurement of serum calcitonin in nodular thyroid diseases allows the preoperative diagnosis of unsuspected sporadic medullary thyroid carcinoma

Furio Pacini, Marica Fontanelli, Laura Fugazzola, Rossella Elisei, Cristina Romei, Giancarlo Di Coscio, Paolo Miccoli, Aldo Pinchera

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To assess whether routine measurement of serum calcitonin (CT) could improve the preoperative diagnosis of sporadic medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC), 1385 consecutive patients presenting for nodular thyroid disease during the year 1991 were submitted to serum CT determination and fine needle aspiration cytology (FNAC). The clinical diagnosis was nontoxic nodular goiter in 1197 (86.4%) patients, toxic multinodular goiter in 65 (4.7%), autonomously functioning thyroid nodule (AFTN) in 64 (4.6%), and autoimmune thyroid disease (Graves' disease or Hashimoto's thyroiditis) with nodule(s) in 59 (4.3%). As controls, 177 patients with nonnodular thyroid disease and 32 normal subjects were also studied. Patients with FNAC suspicious of any kind of thyroid carcinoma and patients with elevated basal and pentagastrin- stimulated serum CT, regardless of the results of FNAC, were submitted to surgery. Eight (0.57%) patients (7 with nontoxic nodular goiter and 1 with AFTN) had elevated basal serum CT levels, ranging between 55-10,000 pg/mL. The pentagastrin test was abnormal in all of them. FNAC was suggestive of MTC in 2, thyroid carcinoma in 1, benign nodule in 3, and inadequate in 2. By histology, immunohistochemistry, and Northern blot analysis of total tumor RNAs, MTC was confirmed in all patients, including the 1 with AFTN, who had the association of microfollicular adenoma and a small MTC in the same lobe. After surgery, serum CT decreased to undetectable levels in 7 patients and remained undetectable in 6 of them during a mean follow-up of 22 months, although 1 of them had a positive response to pentagastrin. Forty-four patients in the group with normal serum CT levels had FNAC suspicious for differentiated thyroid carcinoma and were treated by surgery. Differentiated thyroid carcinoma, mostly papillary, was confirmed at histology in 43 subjects (3.1% of all thyroid nodules). In conclusion, the results of our study indicate that serum CT measurement is useful for the screening of sporadic MTC in patients with thyroid nodule(s). The prevalence of MTC, diagnosed by serum CT measurement in a 12-month period, among an unselected series of 1385 patients with nodular thyroid disease was surprisingly high: 0.57% of all thyroid nodules and 15.7% of all thyroid carcinomas. Serum CT measurement was superior to FNAC in suggesting the diagnosis of MTC and was devoid of falsely positive results. Increasing the diagnostic accuracy helped the surgeon to perform more radical treatment of MTC, thus achieving frequent normalization of postoperative serum CT levels. Whether this result indicates definitive cure remains to be established on the basis of longer follow-up. We recommend serum CT measurement in the diagnostic evaluation of thyroid nodules.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)826-829
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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