Test Catalog

Test ID: COS    
Cobalt, Serum

Useful For Suggests clinical disorders or settings where the test may be helpful

Detecting cobalt toxicity


Monitoring metallic prosthetic implant wear


This test is not useful for assessment of vitamin B12 activity.

Clinical Information Discusses physiology, pathophysiology, and general clinical aspects, as they relate to a laboratory test

Cobalt is rare but widely distributed in the environment, used in the manufacture of hard alloys with high melting points and resistance to oxidation; cobalt alloys are used in manufacture of some artificial joint prosthesis devices. Cobalt salts are used in the glass and pigment industry. Previously, cobalt salts were sometimes used as foam stabilizers in the brewing industry; this practice was banned due to the cardiovascular diseases it induced. The radioactive isotope of cobalt, (60)Co, is used as a gamma emitter in experimental biology, cancer therapy, and industrial radiography.


Cobalt is an essential cofactor in vitamin B12 metabolism. Cobalt deficiency has not been reported in humans.


Cobalt is not highly toxic, but large doses will produce adverse clinical manifestations. Acute symptoms are pulmonary edema, allergy, nausea, vomiting, hemorrhage, and renal failure. Chronic symptoms include pulmonary syndrome, skin disorders, and thyroid abnormalities. The inhalation of dust during machining of cobalt alloyed metals can lead to interstitial lung disease.


Serum cobalt concentrations are likely to be increased above the reference range in patients with joint prosthesis containing cobalt. Prosthetic devices produced by Depuy Company, Dow Corning, Howmedica, LCS, PCA, Osteonics, Richards Company, Tricon, and Whiteside are typically made of chromium, cobalt, and molybdenum. This list of products is incomplete, and these products change occasionally; see prosthesis product information for each device for composition details.

Reference Values Describes reference intervals and additional information for interpretation of test results. May include intervals based on age and sex when appropriate. Intervals are Mayo-derived, unless otherwise designated. If an interpretive report is provided, the reference value field will state this.

<1.0 ng/mL

<10.0 ng/mL (Metal-on-metal implant)

Reference values apply to all ages.


The reported unit of measurement for cobalt of ng/mL is equivalent to mcg/L.

Interpretation Provides information to assist in interpretation of the test results

Concentrations greater than or equal to 1.0 ng/mL indicate possible environmental or occupational exposure. Cobalt concentrations associated with toxicity must be interpreted in the context of the source of exposure. If cobalt is ingested, concentrations greater than 5 ng/mL suggest major exposure and likely toxicity. If cobalt exposure is due to orthopedic implant wear, there are no large case number reports associating high circulating serum cobalt with toxicity.


There are no Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) blood or urine criteria for occupational exposure to cobalt.


Prosthesis wear is known to result in increased circulating concentration of metal ions. Modest increase (4-10 ng/mL) in serum cobalt concentration is likely to be associated with a prosthetic device in good condition. Serum concentrations above 10 ng/mL in a patient with cobalt-based implant suggest significant prosthesis wear. Increased serum trace element concentrations in the absence of corroborating clinical information do not independently predict prosthesis wear or failure. However, the FDA recommends testing cobalt in EDTA anticoagulated whole blood in symptomatic patients with metal-on-metal implants.

Cautions Discusses conditions that may cause diagnostic confusion, including improper specimen collection and handling, inappropriate test selection, and interfering substances

Because this test uses mass spectrometry detection, the radioactive form of cobalt, (60)Co, is not quantified.


Specimen collection procedures for cobalt require special specimen collection tubes, rigorous attention to ultraclean specimen collection and handling procedures, and analysis in an ultraclean facility. Unless all of these precautions are taken, elevated serum cobalt results may be an incidental and misleading finding.

Clinical Reference Recommendations for in-depth reading of a clinical nature

1. Tower SS: Arthroprosthetic cobaltism: neurological and cardiac manifestations in two patients with metal-on-metal arthroplasty: A case report. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2010;92:1-5

2. Keegan GM, Learmonth ID, Case CP: A systematic comparison of the actual, potential, and theoretical health effects of cobalt and chromium exposures from industry and surgical implants. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2008;38:645-674

3. De Smet K, De Hann R, Calistri A, et al: Metal ion measurement as a diagnostic tool to identify problems with metal-on-metal hip resurfacing. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2008;90:202-208

4. Lison D, De Boeck M, Verougstraete V, Kirsch-Volders M: Update on the genotoxicity and carcinogenicity of cobalt compounds. Occup Environ Med. 2001;58:619-625

Special Instructions Library of PDFs including pertinent information and forms related to the test