Physical Activity, Diabetes, and Risk of Thyroid Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Eur J Epidemiol. 2013 Dec;28(12):945-58. doi: 10.1007/s10654-013-9865-0. Epub 2013 Nov 17.


Thyroid cancer incidence has been increasing more rapidly over time than the occurrence of cancers of other sites, and interest in potential adverse relations of diabetes and lack of physical activity to thyroid cancer risk is accumulating. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of published epidemiologic studies on the relations of physical activity and diabetes to thyroid cancer according to the Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology guidelines. Published studies were identified through a search in MEDLINE and EMBASE. Random-effects models were used to summarize thyroid cancer risk estimates comparing high versus low levels of physical activity, and separately, comparing individuals with diabetes versus those without diabetes. Meta-regression analyses were performed to evaluate potential effect modification by study design and thyroid cancer risk factors. Information was extracted from seven studies of physical activity and thyroid cancer and from six studies of diabetes and thyroid cancer. The number of individuals from studies on physical activity was 939,305 (yielding 2,250 incident thyroid cancer cases) and from studies on diabetes it was 960,840 (yielding 1,230 cases). The summary relative risk (RR) estimate from cohort and case-control studies combined indicated no association between physical activity and thyroid cancer (summary RR 1.06, 95 % confidence interval (CI) 0.79-1.42). Subgroup-analyses revealed a significant positive association between physical activity and thyroid cancer in cohort studies (summary RR 1.28; 95 % CI 1.01-1.63), whereas the relation was suggestively inverse in case-control studies (summary RR 0.70; 95 % CI 0.48-1.03; p for heterogeneity = 0.005). Individuals with diabetes showed a borderline statistically significant increased risk of thyroid cancer compared with those without diabetes (summary RR 1.17; 95 % CI 0.99-1.39). The relations of physical activity and diabetes to thyroid cancer were not modified by sex, number of adjustment factors, and adjustments for adiposity, smoking, and study quality. In this comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis, no significant association between physical activity and thyroid cancer was found. Diabetes showed a suggestive positive relation with risk of thyroid cancer.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Motor Activity*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / epidemiology*