Calcium carbonate is widely used as an oral phosphorus binder to control hyperphosphatemia in children on maintenance hemodialysis. Intestinal calcium absorption may induce hypercalcemia, particularly if calcitriol is given simultaneously. In adults, calcium acetate binds phosphorus more effectively than calcium carbonate, while reducing the frequency of hypercalcemic events. We therefore compared calcium acetate with calcium carbonate in nine pediatric patients on long-term maintenance hemodialysis. Following a 1-week withdrawal of phosphorus binders, calcium carbonate was administered for 7 weeks; after a second withdrawal, calcium acetate was given for another 7 weeks. All patients received calcitriol regularly. Both agents lowered the serum phosphorus concentration significantly (calcium carbonate 5.7 +/- 1.4 vs. 7.7 +/- 2.1 mg/ dl, P < 0.005; calcium acetate 5.8 +/- 1.4 vs. 7.8 +/- 2.0 mg/dl, P < 0.005). Significantly less elementary calcium was ingested with calcium acetate than with calcium carbonate: 750 (375-1,500) vs. 1,200 (0-3,000) mg calcium/day, P < 0.0001. Wit calcium carbonate serum calcium increased significantly. The number of episodes of hyperphosphatemia or hypercalcemia did not differ between treatments. Intact plasma parathyroid hormone (PTH) decreased significantly with both phosphate binders, and serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 increased. There was a close relationship between serum phosphorus and PTH in prepubertal but not in pubertal patients. We conclude that hyperphosphatemia can be controlled effectively by both calcium acetate and calcium carbonate in pediatric hemodialysis patients. The oral load of elementary calcium is reduced significantly by binding phosphorus with calcium acetate instead of calcium carbonate; nevertheless, hypercalcemic episodes remain equally frequent with both phosphate binders.