Depending on the patient population, up to 80% of patients with malignant tumors and hypercalcemia will be suffering from humoral hypercalcemia of malignancy (HHM). Of these, 50% to 70% might have an elevated parathyroid hormone-related peptide (PTHrP) level. These patients will also usually show typical biochemical changes of excess parathyroid hormone (PTH)-receptor activation, namely, besides the hypercalcemia, they might have hypophosphatemia, hypercalcuria, hyperphosphaturia, and elevated serum alkaline phosphatase. Their PTH levels will typically be less than 30 pg/mL or undetectable.
In patients with biochemical findings that suggest, but do not prove, primary hyperparathyroidism (eg, hypercalcemia, but normal or near-normal serum phosphate, and a PTH level that is within the population reference range but above 30 pg/mL), HHM should be considered as a diagnostic possibility, particularly if the patient is elderly, has a history of malignancy, or risk factors for malignancy. An elevated PTHrP level in such a patient is highly suggestive of HHM as the cause for the hypercalcemia.