Twenty-six patients with known or suspected medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) and 21 normal control subjects were tested intravenously on four separate days with calcium gluconate (CG), 2 mg Ca++/kg/1 min.; pentagastrin (P), 0.5 ug/kg/5 sec.; calcium chloride (CC), 3 mg Ca++/kg/10 min.; and a combination of calcium gluconate and pentagastrin (CG + P). Calcitonin (CT) levels were determined by radioimmunoassay on plasma collected before and immediately following each test infusion. In none of the 21 control subjects was there a clear increase in CT above 200 pg/ml following any of the four provocative tests. Conversely, in all 26 patients with known or suspected MTC, plasma CT levels were markedly increased (>300 pg/ml) following the combined infusion of CG + P. The peak CT response was greater with CG + P than with a) CG alone (22 of 24 patients, p<0.002), b) P alone (25 of 26 patients, p<0.002), or c) CC alone (17 of 17 patients, p<0.002). Of 12 MTC patients with undetectable basal calcitonin levels, all had peak responses greater than 300 pg/ml following CG + P, whereas such responses occurred less often following CG alone (8 of 12) or P alone (8 of 12). The results demonstrate that the combined administration of pentagastrin and calcium gluconate constitutes a more effective and reliable stimulus for CT secretion from MTC cells than the use of either agent alone, and appears the most useful single screening test for the detection of occult MTC.
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