Relevance of iodine intake as a reputed predisposing factor for thyroid cancer

Arq Bras Endocrinol Metabol. 2007 Jul;51(5):701-12. doi: 10.1590/s0004-27302007000500007.


Iodine is a trace element that is essential for the synthesis of thyroid hormone. Both chronic iodine deficiency and iodine excess have been associated with hypertrophy and hyperplasia of follicular cells, attributed to excessive secretion of TSH. This may be associated to thyroid cancer risk, particularly in women. Experimental studies have documented thyroid cancer induction by elevation of endogenous TSH, although in a small number of animals. Iodine deficiency associated with carcinogenic agents and chemical mutagens will result in a higher incidence of thyroid malignancy. Inadequate low iodine intake will result in increased TSH stimulation, increased thyroid cell responsiveness to TSH, increased thyroid cell EGF-induced proliferation, decreased TGFbeta 1 production and increased angiogenesis, all phenomena related to promotion of tumor growth. Epidemiological studies associating iodine intake and thyroid cancer led to controversial and conflicting results. There is no doubt that introduction of universal iodine prophylaxis in population previously in chronic iodine-deficiency leads to a changing pattern of more prevalent papillary thyroid cancer and declining of follicular thyroid cancer. Also anaplastic thyroid cancer is practically not seen after years of iodine supplementation. Iodine excess has also been indicated as a possible nutritional factor in the prevalence of differentiated thyroid cancer in Iceland, Hawaii and, more recently, in China.

In conclusion: available evidence from animal experiments, epidemiological studies and iodine prophylaxis has demonstrated a shift towards a rise in papillary carcinoma, but no clear relationship between overall thyroid cancer incidence and iodine intake.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma, Follicular / epidemiology
  • Adenocarcinoma, Follicular / etiology*
  • Adenocarcinoma, Follicular / pathology
  • Adenocarcinoma, Papillary / epidemiology
  • Adenocarcinoma, Papillary / etiology*
  • Adenocarcinoma, Papillary / pathology
  • Animals
  • Argentina / epidemiology
  • Diet
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Epidermal Growth Factor / metabolism
  • Female
  • Hawaii / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Iceland / epidemiology
  • Iodine* / administration & dosage
  • Iodine* / deficiency
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Thyroid Gland / drug effects
  • Thyroid Gland / metabolism
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology
  • Thyrotropin / drug effects
  • Thyrotropin / metabolism


  • Epidermal Growth Factor
  • Thyrotropin
  • Iodine