Assaying calcitonin (CT) in the wash-out fluid from fine-needle aspiration biopsies (CT-FNAB) could be useful in the diagnosis of medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC). The aim of this study was to correlate serum CT with cytology and CT-FNAB. Twenty-seven subjects (age range 27-75 yr) were studied. FNAB was performed in a thyroid nodule (no.=16) or lymph-node (no.=1 previously operated on for MTC) or in the prevalent nodule of multinodular goiters (no.=10). CT-FNAB values obtained in 37 subjects with normal serum CT (<10 ng/l) who underwent FNAB for thyroid nodules served as a negative control. In these subjects, CTFNAB values were 8.2+/-6.4 ng/l (range 2-30 ng/l). In patients with a thyroid nodule under evaluation for MTC, serum CT and CT-FNAB values were 14.5+/-3.9 ng/l (range 10-24 ng/l) and 16.4+/-29.8 ng/l (range 2-144 ng/l), respectively. In 4 patients, CT-FNAB values were higher than the highest values found in our negative controls (30 ng/l), but cytology results were compatible with a benign thyroid lesion and pentagastrin testing was negative. In 3 cases with CT-FNAB <30 ng/l, cytology was indicative of an indeterminate or probably follicular malignant lesion and histology was negative for MTC. None of the other subjects in whom pentagastrin testing was conducted showed serum CT values >100 ng/l. Our data do not show any correlation between CT-FNAB and serum CT. In conclusion, borderline CT values in patients with thyroid nodules are not rare. Our experience suggests that CT-FNAB does not have the same importance as that reported in the literature for thyroglobulin and PTH assay in wash-out fluid after FNAB in malignant thyroid and hyperfunctioning parathyroid lesions.