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Clin Chim Acta. 2012 Aug 16;413(15-16):1184-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cca.2012.04.021. Epub 2012 Apr 23.

Diagnostic value of transferrin.

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Cattedra di Biochimica Clinica e Biologia Molecolare Clinica, Dipartimento di Scienze Cliniche Luigi Sacco, Università degli Studi, Milano, Italy.


Despite the growing interest in hepcidin and other relatively new biomarkers, guidelines and clinical pathways continue to recommend traditional markers, such as serum transferrin (Tf) and ferritin, as laboratory tests for the diagnostic evaluation of iron-related disorders. In this study, we aimed to critically evaluate the diagnostic role of Tf relying on the highest level of available evidence by a comprehensive literature search. The role of Tf in iron deficiency (ID) and iron overload (IO) syndrome as well as a risk marker was evaluated. The low accuracy of Tf and Tf saturation (TS) in the diagnosis and management of ID conditions does not permit definitively recommending their use, even if recently published guidelines still consider the TS investigation as a complementary test for ferritin. If a tissue IO is suspected, TS is often used, even if it may not be the best test for detecting this condition. Nevertheless, clinical guidelines strongly recommend the use of TS as a first-level test for performing genetic diagnosis of hereditary hemochromatosis. Recently reported data indicating elevated TS as a risk factor for diabetes mellitus, cancer, and total mortality, may provide useful additions to the debate over whether or not to screen for IO using TS.

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