Levothyroxine is a widely prescribed medication for the treatment of an underactive thyroid. The relationship between levothyroxine use and cancer risk is largely underdetermined. To investigate the magnitude of the possible association between levothyroxine use and cancer risk, this retrospective case-control study was conducted using Taiwan’s Health and Welfare Data Science Center database. Cases were defined as all patients who were aged ≥20 years and had a first-time diagnosis for cancer at any site for the period between 2001 and 2011. Multivariable conditional logistic regression models were used to calculate an adjusted odds ratio (AOR) to reduce potential confounding factors. A total of 601 733 cases and 2 406 932 controls were included in the current study. Levothyroxine users showed a 50% higher risk of cancer at any site (AOR: 1.50, 95% CI: 1.46-1.54; P <.0001) compared with non–users. Significant increased risks were also observed for brain cancer (AOR: 1.90, 95% CI: 1.48-2.44; P <.0001), skin cancer (AOR: 1.42, 95% CI: 1.17-1.72; P <.0001), pancreatic cancer (AOR: 1.27, 95% CI: 1.01-1.60; P =.03), and female breast cancer (AOR: 1.24, 95% CI: 1.15-1.33; P <.0001). Our study results showed that levothyroxine use was significantly associated with an increased risk of cancer, particularly brain, skin, pancreatic, and female breast cancers. Levothyroxine remains a highly effective therapy for hypothyroidism; therefore, physicians should carefully consider levothyroxine therapy and monitor patients’ condition to avoid negative outcomes. Additional studies are needed to confirm these findings and to evaluate the potential biological mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2533-2541
Number of pages9
JournalCancer Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • association research
  • cancer risk
  • case-control study
  • levothyroxine
  • long-term drug use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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