New Study Suggests Cancer Risk is Raised in Long-Term Levothyroxine (T4) Use in Thyroid Patients

I would like to urge any reader to read the entire article and the content of the links prior to considering the implications. The research I am referring to will not apply to everyone on Levothyroxine. Many thyroid patients will do just fine on Levo and never have any issues. So, it is important to put this in that context. Having said that I believe that relevant information needs to be available to thyroid patients so that they can make informed decisions regarding their own health.

This is a very recently published study. The research showed that levothyroxine use was associated with a significantly increased risk of cancer, particularly brain, skin, pancreatic, and female breast cancers. 


Levothyroxine, also known as T4, and brand names such as Synthroid, is the main medication prescribed by endocrinologists and doctors in the treatment of hypothyroidism. The prevailing endocrinology view is that Levothyroxine always works and that TSH can be used to assess the adequacy of the treatment. There are many research papers that show that these views are flawed. This new paper adds more evidence to this.

This research study was very large and included 601,733 cases of cancer and 2,406,932 controls. So, this was not a small number of people being studied. It needs to be taken very seriously.

The researchers recommend more work to understand the biological reasons for this.

However, it seems obvious to me that at least one of the most likely reasons is that Levothyroxine (T4) often does not result in the same level of FT3 and FT4 that healthy people with a working thyroid gland enjoy. All too frequently, T4 medication results in lower FT3 and higher FT4 in the patient than they had when they were once well. In some cases, this may be due to T4 dosage never being raised to a high enough level because the patient’s doctor thought TSH was too low (see my blogs regarding TSH and the research that examines the flawed use of TSH within thyroid treatment today). In other cases, various issues may have compromised the ability of the patient to convert T4 to T3 as efficiently as they used to (the loss of thyroid tissue can do this, as well as other factors – see my blogs).

Hence, in my view, many thyroid patients would be a lot healthier on a mix of T4 and T3 medications, rather than Levothyroxine. So, a combination of synthetic T4 & T3 or a natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) would be healthier for many thyroid patients. The reliance on TSH as the main indicator of thyroid hormone adequacy during treatment also needs to be revised.


As I mentioned in the introduction, this does not mean that all thyroid patients on Levothyroxine have an increased risk of cancer. Some thyroid patients are extremely good converters of T4 to T3 and they will of course have sufficiently good levels of T3 to have no increased risk. Those thyroid patients on Levothyroxine and who feel really healthy are also likely to have sufficient T3 and be completely fine also.

This research simply points out the risk to some thyroid patients on Levothyroxine. I would think that the people in the higher risk category are those with low levels of FT3, or high levels of reverse T3, and those that have remaining symptoms of hypothyroidism.


This research provides even more evidence that there is far too much reliance on T4 monotherapy. The faith of doctors and endocrinologists in the effectiveness of Levothyroxine is seriously flawed. Something has to change!


Here is the information on the study that I have so far:

Chieh-Chen Wu, Mohaimenul Islam, Phung Anh Alex Nguyen, Tahmina Nasrin Poly, Ching-Huan Wang, Usman Iqbal, Yu-Chuan Jack Li, Hsuan-Chia Yang. April 2021. Risk of Cancer in Long-Term Levothyroxine Users: Retrospective Population-based Study. Cancer Sci. doi: 10.1111/cas.14908.

When I first posted this I only had the link to the abstract and promised to update this post when the full text wass available:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33793038/

I now have the link to the full text:
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cas.14908


My belief that the increased cancer risk is likely to be connected to the lower levels of T3 generated by Levothyroxine, has further support.


We know from research that dendritic cells play a central role in fighting cancer. These dendritic cells are highly dependent on T3. Research using mice with cancer concluded that T4 therapy showed no increase in the activity of the dendritic cells. However, when the mice were given T3 it helped to destroy the cancers:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31214123/


Here is another article that is worth reading that speaks to the risks of high FT4 and rT3. It references a great piece by Dr T. S. Smith:
https://paulrobinsonthyroid.com/cancer-scientists-point-finger-at-t4-and-rt3-research/

This piece of research also points out the link between the T4 hormone and cancer – it is referred to in Dr Smith’s article:
https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fendo.2019.00565/full


Experience of working with thyroid patients also suggests that T4/T3 and T3 treatments tend to cause patients to get far fewer colds, sinus infections, etc. This is anecdotal evidence but it fits well with the idea of Levothyroxine treatment often providing inadequate immune system support.

I hope you found this article interesting and important.


I am also pleased to mention that the paulrobinsonthyroid blog:
https://paulrobinsonthyroid.com/blog/ is now in the list of the Top 35 Thyroid Blogs: https://blog.feedspot.com/thyroid_blogs/


Best wishes,

Paul

Paul Robinson

Paul Robinson is a British author and thyroid patient advocate. The focus of his books and work is on helping patients recover from hypothyroidism. Paul has accumulated a wealth of knowledge on thyroid and adrenal dysfunction and their treatment. His three books cover all of this.

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2 Comments

  1. G on 7th May 2021 at 7:43 am

    Just found your blog. Thanks for sharing your journey. I found the full text link, (so nice it is free to read), for this new research. I will put an ‘x’ in front of the link and another related research article link I’ll share so I don’t get marked as a spammer.

    I think you may be fortunate to do well on T3 only.

    Risk of cancer in long‐term levothyroxine users: Retrospective population‐based study
    xhttps://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cas.14908

    Clinical Implications and Impact of Discovery of the Thyroid Hormone Receptor on Integrin αvβ3
    xhttps://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fendo.2019.00565/full

    • Paul Robinson on 7th May 2021 at 9:32 am

      Thank you so much for the links G.

      I will add the full-text link to my blog.

      Re: T3 Only, I know of a great many thyroid patients (some who have had TTs), that do very well on T3 Only. The trick is to manage the dosing very carefully. It does require multi-doses and often the doses are of differing sizes and are spaced out differently in time. My Recovering with T3 book describes the protocol that I developed over a ten year period to arrive at effective T3 dosing.

      Many thanks once again!

      Paul

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