Elevated calcium levels might indicate presence of cancer

Sept. 26, 2014

High levels of calcium in blood, a condition known as hypercalcemia, may be an early indication of certain types of cancer, according to a study by researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Exeter. Hypercalcemia occurs in 10 percent to 20 percent of people with cancer; the new research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, shows that often it can predate the diagnosis of cancer.

Researchers analyzed the electronic records of 54,000 patients who had elevated levels of calcium and looked at how many of them went on to receive a cancer diagnosis. They found that in men, even mild hypercalcemia (2.6–2.8?mmol?l-1) conferred a risk of cancer in one year of 11.5 percent. If the calcium was above 2.8?mmol?l-1, the risk increased to 28 percent. In women, the risks were much less, with the corresponding figures being 4.1 percent and 8.7 percent.

In men, 81 percent of the cancer associated with hypercalcemia was caused by lung, prostate, myeloma, colorectal and hematological cancers. In women, cancer was much less common. Fergus Hamilton, MD, who led the research, says, “All previous studies on hypercalcemia and cancer had been carried out with patients who had already been diagnosed with cancer. We wanted to find out if high calcium levels in blood could be used as an early indicator of cancer and therefore in the diagnosis of cancer.”

He adds, “We were surprised by the gender difference. There are a number of possible explanations for this but we think it might be because women are much more likely to have hyperparathyroidism, another cause of hypercalcemia. Men rarely get this condition, so their hypercalcemia is more likely to be due to cancer.” Read the study abstract.

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