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National Coverage Determination (NCD) for Collagen Crosslinks, any Method (190.19)

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Benefit Category
Diagnostic Laboratory Tests

Note: This may not be an exhaustive list of all applicable Medicare benefit categories for this item or service.

Item/Service Description

Collagen crosslinks, part of the matrix of bone upon which bone mineral is deposited, are biochemical markers the excretion of which provide a quantitative measurement of bone resorption. Elevated levels of urinary collagen crosslinks indicate elevated bone resorption. Elevated bone resorption contributes to age-related and postmenopausal loss of bone leading to osteoporosis and increased risk of fracture. The collagen crosslinks assay can be performed by immunoassay or by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Collagen crosslink immunoassays measure the pyridinoline crosslinks and associated telopeptides in urine.

Bone is constantly undergoing a metabolic process called turnover or remodeling. This includes a degradation process, bone resorption, mediated by the action of osteoclasts, and a building process, bone formation, mediated by the action of osteoblasts. Remodeling is required for the maintenance and overall health of bone and is tightly coupled; that is, resorption and formation must be in balance. In abnormal states of bone remodeling, when resorption exceeds formation, it results in a net loss of bone. The measurement of specific, bone-derived resorption products provides analytical data about the rate of bone resorption.

Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to bone fragility and an increased susceptibility to fractures of the hip, spine, and wrist. The term primary osteoporosis is applied where the causal factor in the disease is menopause or aging. The term secondary osteoporosis is applied where the causal factor is something other than menopause or aging, such as long-term administration of glucocorticosteroids, endocrine-related disorders (other than loss of estrogen due to menopause), and certain bone diseases such as cancer of the bone.

With respect to quantifying bone resorption, collagen crosslink tests can provide adjunct diagnostic information in concert with bone mass measurements. Bone mass measurements and biochemical markers may have complementary roles to play in assessing effectiveness of osteoporosis treatment. Proper management of osteoporosis patients, who are on long-term therapeutic regimens, may include laboratory testing of biochemical markers of bone turnover, such as collagen crosslinks, that provide a profile of bone turnover responses within weeks of therapy. Changes in collagen crosslinks are determined following commencement of antiresorptive therapy. These can be measured over a shorter time interval, such as three months, when compared to bone mass density. If bone resorption is not elevated, repeat testing is not medically necessary.

Indications and Limitations of Coverage


Generally speaking, collagen crosslink testing is useful mostly in "fast losers" of bone. The age when these bone markers can help direct therapy is often pre-Medicare. By the time a fast loser of bone reaches age 65, she will most likely have been stabilized by appropriate therapy or have lost so much bone mass that further testing is useless. Coverage for bone marker assays may be established, however, for younger Medicare beneficiaries and for those men and women who might become fast losers because of some other therapy such as glucocorticoids. Safeguards should be incorporated to prevent excessive use of tests in patients for whom they have no clinical relevance.

Collagen crosslinks testing is used to:

  1. Identify individuals with elevated bone resorption, who have osteoporosis in whom response to treatment is being monitored;
  2. Predict response (as assessed by bone mass measurements) to FDA approved antiresorptive therapy in postmenopausal women; and
  3. Assess response to treatment of patients with osteoporosis, Paget's disease of the bone, or risk for osteoporosis where treatment may include FDA approved antiresorptive agents, anti-estrogens or selective estrogen receptor moderators.


Because of significant specimen to specimen collagen crosslink physiologic variability (15-20%), current recommendations for appropriate utilization include: one or two base-line assays from specified urine collections on separate days; followed by a repeat assay about three months after starting anti-resorptive therapy; followed by a repeat assay in 12 months after the three-month assay; and thereafter not more than annually, unless there is a change in therapy in which circumstance an additional test may be indicated three months after the initiation of new therapy.

Some collagen crosslink assays may not be appropriate for use in some disorders, according to FDA labeling restrictions.

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Cross Reference

Also see the Medicare Claims Processing Manual, Chapter 120, Clinical Laboratory Services Based on Negotiated Rulemaking.

Transmittal Number


Revision History

07/2002 - Implemented NCD. Effective date 11/25/02. Implementation date 1/01/03. (TN AB-02-110) (CR 2130)

07/2004 - Published NCD in the NCD Manual without change to narrative contained in PM AB-02-110. Coding guidance now published in Medicare Lab NCD Manual. Effective and Implementation dates NA. (TN 17) (CR 2130)