Methylmalonic acid and homocysteine as indicators of Vitamin B-12 deficiency in cancer

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BACKGROUND/AIMS Normal or high serum vitamin B-12 levels can sometimes be seen in a B-12 deficient state, and can therefore be misleading. High levels of Methymalonic Acid (MMA) and Homocysteine (HC) have been identified as better indicators of B-12 deficiency than the actual serum B-12 level itself. We evaluated the prevalence of vitamin B-12 deficiency using appropriate cut-off levels of vitamin B-12, MMA and HC, and determined the relationship between serum levels of vitamin B-12, MMA and HC in cancer. METHODS This is a cross-sectional study using a consecutive case series of 316 cancer patients first seen at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) at Midwestern Regional Medical Center between April 2014 and June 2014. All patients were evaluated at baseline for vitamin B-12 (pg/mL), MMA (nmol/L) and HC (μmol/L) levels. In accordance with previously published research, the following cut-offs were used to define vitamin B-12 deficiency: <300 pg/mL for vitamin B-12, >260 nmol/L for MMA and >12 μmol/L for HC. The relationship between B-12, MMA and HC was evaluated using Spearman's rho correlation coefficient and cross-tabulation analysis. Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curves were estimated using the non-parametric method to further evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of vitamin B-12 using Fedosov quotient as the "gold standard". RESULTS Mean age at presentation was 52.5 years. 134 (42.4%) patients were males while 182 (57.6%) were females. Median vitamin B-12, MMA and HC levels were 582.5 pg/mL, 146.5 nmol/L and 8.4 μmol/L respectively. Of 316 patients, 28 (8.9%) were vitamin B-12 deficient based on vitamin B-12 (<300 pg/mL), 34 (10.8%) were deficient based on MMA (>260 nmol/L) while 55 (17.4%) were deficient based on HC (>12 μmol/L). Correlation analysis revealed a significant weak negative correlation between vitamin B-12 and MMA (rho = -0.22) as well as B-12 and HC (rho = -0.35). ROC curves suggested MMA to have the best discriminatory power in predicting B-12 deficiency. CONCLUSION Vitamin B-12 is poorly correlated with MMA and HC in cancer. Using serum vitamin B-12 alone to evaluate B-12 status in cancer may fail to identify those with functional deficiency. A thorough clinical assessment is important to identify patients that may have risk factors and/or symptoms suggestive of deficiency. These patients should have additional testing of MMA and HC regardless of their B-12 levels.




Vashi, P., Edwin, P., Popiel, B., Lammersfeld, C., & Gupta, D. (2016). Methylmalonic acid and homocysteine as indicators of Vitamin B-12 deficiency in cancer. PLoS ONE, 11(1).

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