Calcitonin is a polypeptide hormone secreted by the parafollicular cells (also referred to as calcitonin cells or C cells) of the thyroid gland. The main action of calcitonin is the inhibition of bone resorption by regulating the number and activity of osteoclasts. Calcitonin is secreted in direct response to serum hypercalcemia and may prevent large oscillations in serum calcium levels and excessive loss of body calcium. However, in comparison to parathyroid hormone and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, the role of calcitonin in the regulation of serum calcium in humans is minor. Measurements of serum calcitonin levels are, therefore, not useful in the diagnosis of disorders of calcium homeostasis.
Malignant tumors arising from thyroid C cells (medullary thyroid carcinoma: MTC) usually produce elevated levels of calcitonin. MTC is an uncommon malignant thyroid tumor, comprising less than 5% of all thyroid malignancies. Approximately 25% of these are familial cases, usually appearing as a component of multiple endocrine neoplasia type II (MENII, Sipple syndrome). MTC may also occur in families without other associated endocrine dysfunction, with similar autosomal dominant transmission as MENII, which is then called familial medullary thyroid carcinoma (FMTC). Variants in the RET proto-oncogene are associated with MENII and FMTC.
Serum calcitonin concentrations are high in infants, decline rapidly, and are relatively stable from childhood through adult life. In general, calcitonin serum concentrations are higher in men than in women due to the larger C-cell mass in men. Serum calcitonin concentrations may be increased in patients with chronic renal failure, and other conditions such as hyperparathyroidism, leukemic and myeloproliferative disorders, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, autoimmune thyroiditis, small cell and large cell lung cancers, breast and prostate cancer, mastocytosis, and various neuroendocrine tumors, in particular, islet cell tumors.