Levothyroxine treatment is associated with an increased relative risk of overall and organ specific incident cancers – a cohort study of the Swedish population

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


High thyroid hormone values have been associated with an increased risk of incident cancers, especially breast cancer but also lung cancer and any solid cancers. We explored whether there is an increased risk of overall and cause-specific cancers in those receiving levothyroxine treatment. We included all individuals ≥ 18 years in Sweden (N = 8,573,313) on January 1 2009, and identified patients with two or more dispensed prescriptions of levothyroxine 2005–2006 (n = 253,193, 3.0 %). A cancer diagnosis in the Swedish Cancer Register 2009–2015 was used as outcome. We excluded patients with a cancer diagnosis before 2005. Cox regression was used (hazard ratios, HRs, and 95 % confidence intervals, CI) with adjustments for age, socioeconomic/neighborhood factors and co-morbidities. Totally 399,751 cases of incident cancer were identified, with a slight increased overall risk associated with levothyroxine treatment for both men, adjusted HR 1.06 (95 % CI 1.03–1.10), and women, adjusted HR 1.08 (95 % CI 1.07–1.10). For men, increased risks were found for cancers of the thyroid gland and other endocrine glands. For women, increased risks were found for cancers of the breast, endometrium, other female genitals (ovaries not included), stomach, colon, liver, pancreas, urinary bladder, skin, leukemia, and unspecified primary tumor. Unlike men, for women, no increased risk was found for cancer of the thyroid gland. In conclusions, levothyroxine treatment was associated with an excess cancer risk, including many different types of cancer, especially among women. Our results need confirmation by other studies, but levothyroxine is recommended to be prescribed only on approved indications.


External organisations
  • Karolinska Institutet
  • Center for Primary Health Care Research
  • Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • Shimane University
  • Stockholm Regional Council
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Cancer and Oncology
  • Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology


  • Cancer, Epidemiology, Gender, Levothyroxine
Original languageEnglish
Article number101707
JournalCancer Epidemiology
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Publication categoryResearch