Serum calcitonin negative medullary thyroid carcinoma: a systematic review of the literature

Clin Chem Lab Med. 2015 Sep 1;53(10):1507-14. doi: 10.1515/cclm-2015-0058.


Generally, calcitonin (CT) values below the upper reference limit rule-out medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) with very high accuracy. However, sparse cases of serum-calcitonin-negative MTC (CT-NEG-MTC) have been reported. Here we reviewed CT-NEG-MTC reported in literature, discussed the potential causes and proposed a practical laboratory and clinical approach. A comprehensive literature search was conducted by using the terms "medullary thyroid carcinoma" AND "non-secreting calcitonin" OR "undetectable calcitonin". The search was updated until December 2014. Original articles that described CT-NEG-MTC were eligible for inclusion. Only MTC cases with preoperative CT below the upper reference limit were included in the present review. Eleven papers with 18 CT-NEG-MTC cases (age 50 years, size 26 mm) were retrieved. Four patients with poorly differentiated MTC died within 3 years. Different CT assays were employed and different reference values were adopted. Preoperative serum CT values were below the institution cut-off levels in all cases, and undetectable in four patients. In some papers negative CT results were confirmed by additional tests. Further laboratory investigations were performed in some of the included studies. In patients with well founded suspicious of MTC and within the reference limits/undetectable CT other laboratory investigations [carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), procalcitonin, CT stimulation, CT in washout of nodule's aspiration] have to be performed. Surgical approach to CT-NEG-MTC does not differ from those secreting CT. Postoperative follow-up of these rare cases should include periodical imaging and measurement of all potential markers. Patients with poorly differentiated MTC are at higher risk of disease-related death, and require more aggressive follow-up strategy.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Calcitonin / blood*
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine / blood*
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine / genetics
  • Humans
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / blood*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / genetics
  • Thyroid Nodule / blood


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Calcitonin

Supplementary concepts

  • Thyroid cancer, medullary